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article imageAmnesty urged to ‘adopt’ Malawi gay couple

By Andrew John     Mar 10, 2010 in Lifestyle
Human-rights advocates are calling for a same-sex couple in Malawi to be adopted as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International, after they were arrested for holding a traditional engagement ceremony.
Amnesty is being urged to formally regard Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as “prisoners of conscience” as part of the campaign for their release.
The couple are being held in Chichiri prison in Malawi on charges of homosexuality. A verdict is expected on 22 March. The pair celebrated their relationship in a public ceremony last December.
The British gay human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has written to the director of Amnesty in the UK, Kate Allen, on behalf of the gay campaigning organization Outrage!.
“We urge Amnesty International to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as prisoners of conscience,” said Tatchell, adding: “Everyone is very appreciative of the statement that Amnesty has already issued, which deplores the men’s arrest and calls for their release.”
But Tatchell added: “We are now hoping that Amnesty will go one step further and recognize them as prisoners of conscience.
“Adoption by Amnesty as prisoners of conscience would be a great morale boost for Tiwonge and Steven. It might also help encourage a less harsh sentence if they are found guilty.”
In his letter to Amnesty, Tatchell writes: “Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have not committed any crime by holding a same-sex engagement ceremony. This ceremony is not illegal under Malawian law.
“Moreover, no one has witnessed them committing any illegal same-sex act and there is no forensic evidence to prove that they have committed criminal offences.
“Even if they did have a sexual relationship, it is ethically wrong to prosecute them for consenting private behaviour that harms no one.
“Their prosecution is illegal. It is contrary to Section 20 of the Malawi constitution, which outlaws all discrimination. Criminalising adult same-sex relations when similar opposite-sex relations are lawful is discrimination and is unconstitutional.
“The prosecution of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga also violates the equal treatment provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, which Malawi has signed and pledged to uphold.”
The religious think tank Ekklesia says: “Monjeza and Chimbalanga have asked people concerned for human freedom to increase Malawian and international pressure to secure the dropping of all charges and their immediate release.”
The couple face a maximum sentence of years’ imprisonment if they are convicted.
“The situation is complicated because Monjeza and Chimbalanga were arrested for a ceremony, rather than for sexual activity as such, making the situation more legally complex,” says Ekklesia.
Article 4 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Malawi is a signatory, states: “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person.”
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