Amnesty International has warned that a Malawian couple given a presidential pardon following their conviction of “gross indecency” and “unnatural acts” could face further harassment unless the law is changed.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were released from prison on 29 May 2010 after President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned them on humanitarian grounds.
The Presidential pardon followed a meeting between the President and visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Amnesty International adopted the couple as prisoners of conscience in January and has campaigned for their immediate and unconditional release.
“While we are delighted that the couple have been pardoned, we remain concerned that Steven and Tiwonge may be subject to future arrest and harassment under the same laws if they continue their relationship, because the presidential pardon applies only to the purported acts for which they were convicted” said Michelle Kagari, the deputy director of Amnesty International’s Africa program.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were arrested by police on 28 December 2009 in Blantyre, two days after holding an engagement ceremony in the southern city's Chirimba township.
The pair reported that they were beaten by police while in custody and were subjected to booing and jeering during their trial.
When passing sentence magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa said he was passing “a scaring sentence so that the public must also be protected from others who may be tempted to emulate their horrendous example.”
Criminalization of individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity is banned under treaties ratified by Malawi, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
“Malawi must live up to its obligations under international human rights law,” said Michelle Kagari. “The authorities are legally bound by these treaties to respect and protect freedom of conscience, expression and the right to privacy, without discrimination on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity”.
Amnesty International calls on Malawian authorities to take effective steps to prevent acts of violence or discrimination and to safeguard the well-being of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.