Malawi must release men charged with ‘unnatural practices’

The Malawi authorities must immediately and unconditionally release two Malawian men, who were arrested last month after they had a “traditional engagement ceremony”, said Amnesty International.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been charged with “unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency”. 

They were arrested on 28 December, two days after the ceremony in Blantyre’s Chirimba Township. They were reportedly beaten by police while in custody.

Both men appeared in court on Monday and were remanded in custody until 11 January. They are currently being held at Chichiri prison.

“The arrest of the two men solely for their real or perceived sexual orientation amounts to discrimination and it is in violation to their rights to freedom of conscience, expression, and to privacy,” said Simeon Mawanza Amnesty International’s researcher on Malawi.

Laws criminalizing homosexuality and gender identity criminalize the legitimate exercise of these human rights, which are protected in treaties ratified by Malawi, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. 

Under these treaties, Malawi has a legal obligation to respect and protect the right to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and the right to privacy, without discrimination on the grounds of, among others, sexual orientation.
Amnesty International said it considers individuals imprisoned solely for their consensual sexual relationships in private as prisoners of conscience and has called for their immediate and unconditional release.
The organization also criticized attempts by the Malawian authorities on Monday to subject the two men to forcible anal medical examinations to establish if they had had sex so that they could be charged for sodomy.

“Such forcible examinations, without the men’s consent, contravene the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishments,” said Simeon Mawanza.

“Such an examination, to ‘prove’ they had had sexual relations with other men, would not be able to confirm the allegations against the men – allegations of acts that should not be criminalized in the first place.” 

Amnesty International also warned that the arrest of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga risks driving underground men who have sex with men in Malawi, making it more difficult for access to information on HIV prevention and health services.
“Young men 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 traumatizing experience,” said Simeon Mawanza.