Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga
Amnesty International has urged the Malawi authorities to immediately release the two men who were arrested in December after they were engaged to marry in a ‘traditional ceremony’.
Steven Monjeza (26) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20) were arrested by police two days after the ceremony in Blantyre’s Chirimba township and charged with ‘unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency’.
In a statement, Amnesty International said that it considers individuals imprisoned solely for their consensual sexual relationship in private as “prisoners of conscience”.
It also criticised attempts by the Malawian authorities to subject the two men to medical examinations to establish if they had had sex so that they could be charged with sodomy.
According to Amnesty, on Monday, the authorities attempted to have the men undergo forcible anal examinations to establish whether they had ‘consummated’ their engagement but this was aborted when they could not get an ‘expert’ to examine them.
“Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have committed no criminal offence and should be immediately and unconditionally released. The Malawian authorities’ attempt to subject them to forcible anal examinations is appalling. Such practices, and the criminalisation of homosexuality in Malawi, should be ended without delay,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen.
The organisation further said that examinations to ‘prove’ that the men had had sexual relations with other men would not be able to confirm the allegations against them; “allegations of acts that should not be criminalised in the first place”.
Amnesty warned that the arrest of Monjeza and Chimbalanga risks driving underground men who have sex with men (MSM) in Malawi, making it more difficult for them to access information on HIV prevention and health services.
The organisation said that Monjeza and Chimbalanga “…need support from their community and government, not confinement to prison because of their sexual orientation. They should be released unconditionally and supported to recover from this traumatising experience”.
The two men are being held at Chichiri prison and have been refused bail for “for their own safety”, despite reports that they have been beaten by police.
According to British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, who has been liaising with human rights defenders inside Malawi, the two men have “a good legal team” in place to defend them in court. They are being backed by the Malawian human rights group, the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP).
On Monday, police arrested a worker from CEDEP on “trumped up charges” that the group’s safer sex HIV education materials are pornographic.
“His arrest is almost certainly in retaliation for CEDEP’s public support for Tiwonge and Steven. There are concerns that the Executive Director of CEDEP, Gift Trapence, may now also face arrest by the police,” Tatchell said.
“Malawi’s anti-gay laws were not devised by Malawians. They were devised in London in the nineteenth century and imposed on the people of Malawi by the British colonisers and their army of occupation. Before the British came and conquered Malawi, there were no laws against homosexuality. These laws are a foreign imposition. They are not African laws,” Tatchell noted.