UNAIDS, the United Nations HIV and AIDS campaign, will participate in a Malawi High Court challenge against the convictions of three men jailed for homosexuality in 2011.
Amon Champyuni, Mathew Bello and Mussa Chiwisi were jailed for between six and 12 years, with hard labour, by a magistrates’ court.
UNAIDS has joined other organisations, including Malawi’s Center for Development of People and the Malawi Law Society, in a bid to free them and to overturn sections of the penal code banning gay sex.
The parties will in March ask the court to declare the laws, which include a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, unconstitutional, reports Reuters.
“Our argument is that as long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private no one has business to get bothered,” law society spokeswoman Felicia Kilembe told the news service.
In November, it was reported that Malawi’s High Court had decided to review the constitutionality of the country’s ‘sodomy’ laws.
The court issued an open call to all interested parties to apply to join the matter as amici curiae (“friends of the court”).
There are four sections of the Malawi penal code that criminalise homosexual behaviour. These are: Section 137A (“indecent practices between females”); Section 153 (“unnatural offences” and “carnal knowledge… against the order of nature”); Section 154 (“attempt to commit unnatural offences”); and Section 156 (“indecent practices between males”).
In addition to being a major human rights issue, activists say that the oppressive laws also hamper the fight against HIV in Malawi, which has one of the highest adult prevalence rates in the world.
The issue of LGBT rights in Malawi was thrust into the international spotlight in 2010 when Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment on charges related to same-sex sexual conduct.
They were later pardoned following international condemnation of the sentence and the personal intervention of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In May 2012, President Joyce Banda announced her intention to overturn the country’s ban on homosexuality but she later reversed her stance, saying that the majority of Malawians were not in favour of this.
In November 2012 it was reported that Malawi had “suspended” laws criminalising homosexuality pending a parliamentary vote, but three days later Attorney General and Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara made a u-turn, stating: “There was no such announcement and there was no discussion on same-sex marriage.”