Sunday, May 30, 2010
U.N. Secretary General Welcomes Pardon of Gay Men Sentenced in Malawi, Calls for Malawi to Reform its Outdated Laws
Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were convicted in Malawi earlier this month of "indecent practices between males" and "unnatural offences." They had been arrested in December, a day after they publicly celebrated their engagement.
A judge in Malawi, Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa, sentenced them to 14 years hard labor in prison, the harshest penalty available under Malawian law.
President Bingu wa Mutarika of Malawi pardoned the men, who were released from prison yesterday. Click here for details. “These boys committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws,” President Mutharika is reported to have said. “However, as head of state, I hereby pardon them and therefore order their immediate release without any conditions.”
Steven and Tiwonge had not returned to their home, fearing that they could be attacked. Their case drew a great deal of attention in Malawi, with large crowds attending their trial and taunting the couple. The couple has endured horrible treatment both in prison and during the trial itself, including beatings by police when they were in jail.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the “courageous” decision of the President and voiced hope that Malawi would update its national laws to reflect international standards and repeal the colonial-era laws against sodomy. In an address to Malawi’s parliament, Mr. Ban said that we cannot “stay quiet when people are denied fundament rights – whatever their race or faith or age or gender or sexual orientation.” He said that it was “unfortunate that laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation exist in some countries.” He called for reforms of these laws and expressed confidence that the Malawian Parliament “will take appropriate steps to update laws discriminating based on sexual orientation in line with international standards.”
A UN press release stated that Malawi is one of 37 African countries that continues to have anti-gay laws.
The couple will likely continue to have a difficult time in Malawi and may seek asylum in another country. A gay man who fled to the United Kingdom five years ago speculated that Steven and Tiwonge would not be safe in Malawi.