Thursday, May 20, 2010

Foreign govts protest as Malawi gays get 14 years

By REX CHIKOKO, NATION Correspondent

Foreign governments have condemned the 14-year sentence meted on Malawi gays saying they are deeply disappointed by the conviction and urged Malawi’s government to review its laws.

A Blantyre magistrate’s court on Thursday sentenced Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr Steven Monjeza to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour after it found them guilty of two counts in the first ever gay case in Malawi.

In a statement issued in Lilongwe, the British government said it believed that human rights applied to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We are deeply dismayed by the conviction for buggery and indecent practices of Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr Steven Monjeza. We are also very concerned by the allegations of their mistreatment in police custody,” read part of the statement.

“The conviction and sentencing to the maximum 14 years’ imprisonment of Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza runs counter to a positive trend. The UK urges the government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure the defence of human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds.”

In another statement, the United States said it was deeply disappointed by the conviction. “The government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens,” said the brief statement signed by John Warner, public affairs officer of the US embassy in Lilongwe.

The statement said the United States viewed the decriminalisation of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world. And the Norwegian government said it would continue to speak against issues of minority rights in Malawi.

Speaking during the commemoration of Norway’s Constitutional Day, which falls on May 17, a day before the ruling on the gays was made, Norwegian ambassador to Malawi Bjorn Johannsen said his government was not dictating anything but said it had a responsibility to present to their partners concerns from their people.

However, religious organisations in the country welcomed the sentence, saying homosexuality was unacceptable, both culturally and spiritually. Muslim Association of Malawi chairperson Sheik Yusuf Kanyamula said the court was lenient as the Quran said people who indulged in same sex unions deserved death.

“The couple deserves punishment. Human beings should not behave like animals,” Kanyamula said. And the general secretary of Malawi Council of Churches, Canaan Phiri, said the sentence was a welcome development. “As a church we believe in a rule of a law, if the magistrate gave a sentence that is within the law we have no problem,” he said.

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