Thursday, January 7, 2010

Free Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga

In Malawi, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga are being held in custody and face criminal charges for having the temerity to celebrate their engagement to each other.

It's a little unclear to me why this is being widely reported as a gay marriage when one news source quotes Chimbalanga as saying "I am a woman". But whether this is simply regular flavour homophobia (prosecuting two men for a relationship with each other) or a transphobia-homophobia double-whammy (wrongly gendering a trans woman as a man, and then prosecuting her and her male partner for engaging in a "gay" relationship with each other), it's completely unjustifiable. They should both be freed at once.

British campaigner Peter Tatchell comments:
"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," said Mr Tatchell.
Sounds familiar.



    28 JANUARY 2010

    Over forty African civil society organizations, in a statement released today, expressed their deep concern at the imprisonment and prosecution of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga under provisions of Malawi’s penal code criminalizing private sexual behavior. They called on the Malawian government to drop all charges against both individuals and repeal the discriminatory criminal law.
    On 28 December, police officers arrested Monjeza and Chimbalanga at their home, charging them under sections 153 and 156 of the Malawian penal code for “unnatural offences” and “indecent practices between males.” This happened two days after Monjeza and Chimbalanga conducted a traditional engagement ceremony, an event that was widely reported in the Malawian press. Chimbalanga was forced to undergo a medical examination to determine whether they had engaged in sexual intercourse, and both were subjected to a psychiatric evaluation. They have been denied bail and remain in custody.
    The group of endorsers, which includes organizations from over a dozen African countries, warned that such criminal prosecution would greatly undermine efforts to respond effectively to the HIV pandemic, stating: “The charges against Monjeza and Chimbalanga have caused a widespread fear among persons engaged in same-sex relations—a group the Malawian government has recognized is vulnerable to discrimination and critical to its efforts to effectively respond to the HIV epidemic.”
    According to media reports Dr. Mary Shawa, the Principal Secretary for Nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the Malawian President’s Office recently acknowledged the need to “incorporate a human rights approach in the delivery of HIV and AIDS services to…men who have sexual intercourse with men.” She further asked men who have sex with men [MSM] to come out in the open in order to assist in HIV prevention efforts.
    The statement warns that “This cannot be done given recent statements by governmental officials denouncing MSM, which has served to further drive this already vulnerable community further underground.”
    Discrimination against men who have sex with men has increasingly raised public health concerns in the African region, where HIV rates among this group are up to ten times that of the general population in large part because they are systematically marginalised in HIV prevention and treatment interventions due to politically driven hostility. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has previously warned that such discrimination is unethical and “makes no sense from a health perspective”.
    The statement which was also supported by almost twenty additional individuals and international civil society organizations further highlighted how sections 153 and 156 of the penal code violated fundamental rights guaranteed under the Malawi Constitution, including the rights to be free from discrimination and human dignity.
    Undule D.K. Mwakasungula, the Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Malawi, stressed that “HIV and human rights cannot be separated. We need our governments to support progressive approaches to health that are not based on prejudiced notions of morality, but on evidence-based responses to the reality in our region.”
    For further information please contact:
    Undule D.K. Mwakasungula, + 265 999 664 176, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Malawi
    Michaela Clayton, +264 81 127 2367, AIDS & Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), Namibia
    Priti Patel, +27 76 808 0505, Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), South Africa


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