See also:
» 19.02.2010 - Japan extends green aid to Malawi
» 01.02.2010 - Malawi takes over AU’s presidency
» 20.11.2009 - Malawi’s rural land development project gets additional funding
» 30.10.2009 - Malawi president receives 2009 Drivers of Change Award
» 23.10.2009 - Malawi signs $60 million road project funding with AfDB
» 20.07.2009 - Malawi's opposition petition thrown out of court
» 05.06.2009 - Epic rescue for endangered elephants in Malawi resumes
» 22.05.2009 - Malawi president already inaugurated

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Politics | Society | Gay - Lesbian

Malawi gays released after pardon

Facsimile of Malawi's leading newspaper 'The Nation'. The gay couple's engagement and court case has been regular front page content for Malawi's press since their December 2009 arrest.

© afrol News/The Nation
afrol News / IPS, 1 June
- Five months and a day after their arrest, the gay Malawian couple who dared to publicly declare their union with a traditional engagement party were pardoned by the President and released without conditions.

Stephen Monjeza (26) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20) earlier this month were found guilty of "gross indecency" and "unnatural acts" and sentenced to the maximum sentence of 14 years with hard labour.

Speaking at the consecration of a Catholic bishop in April, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika had condemned the couple. "A man getting married to a fellow man is evil and bad before the eyes of God. There are certain things we Malawians just don't do."

But on 29 May, President Mutharika announced the pardon shortly after a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. The UN was one of many international organisations that had urged Malawi to reconsider the sentencing and Mr Ban praised the "courage" of the decision of the President of Malawi.

According to local media, the men were released several hours after the announcement and conducted to their respective homes.

Local and international activists have welcomed the pardon. Gift Trapence, director of the Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), a Malawi human rights organisation which works for the welfare of marginalised groups, told 'IPS', "We are happy that the President of Malawi took this decision and that he, as the head of the African Union, sent the message to the other African countries that all the people are equal, no matter what their sexual orientation is."

Clemency not justice
However the pardon changes nothing with regards to Malawi's penal code: homosexual acts remain illegal. "There are other gay people who deserve their rights to be recognised," says Mr Trapence. "It is time to look at how we can remove these laws."

Immediately following sentencing on 20 May, the gay couple had instructed their lawyer to file an appeal to the High Court on constitutional grounds. Malawi's constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, privacy and expression which includes sexual orientation, in the opinion of human rights lawyer Chrispine Sibande.

"The gay suspects did not do anything wrong as long as they lived the without violating other people's rights," Ms Sibande told 'IPS' in January.

Article 20 of Malawi's Constitution states that "discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status."

Anthony Kamanga, Malawi's Solicitor General and secretary for justice and constitutional affairs denies that the pardon was intended to avoid an appeal that could have overturned sections of the Penal Code.

"The President exercised clemency. It has nothing to do with blocking an appeal to the High Court."

Mr Kamanga also denied the release of the couple had anything to do with pressure from international donors. "Our partners did raise concerns, but none of them did threaten to reduce aid on account of this matter, as far as I know."

For the moment CEDEP's Mr Trapence is worried about the safety of the two men: "They are free, but now the major concern is about their security," he said. "Their identity is known, so they cannot walk free on the streets because they could be physically attacked. Their lives are still in danger."

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