Upon the news that a gay couple in Malawi, Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr Steven Monjeza, were to be jailed for 14 years for unnatural acts, myself as Minister for Equality, foreign minister Henry Bellingham and international development minister Stephen O’Brien issued a joint statement.
The statement said: “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.
“Malawi has made significant progress on human rights in recent years.
“The government has signed up to international human rights treaties and Malawi’s constitution protects the rights of all its citizens.
“Infringement of these rights is intolerable. The conviction and sentencing to the maximum 14 years’ imprisonment of Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza runs counter to a positive trend.
“Britain has a close and strong partnership with Malawi and it is in this spirit that we raise our concerns. The UK believes that human rights apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“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. The UK, along with our international partners, will continue to press the government of Malawi on this issue.”
International partners from around the world did indeed also make representations. And the response was that Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika pardoned the couple at the weekend and was rightly praised by US President Barack Obama and by British and Malawian gay rights groups.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was visiting Malawi at the time of the pardon and called Sunday’s release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga from prison a ‘courageous decision’.
President Bingu Wa Mutharika made clear that the pardon was granted on strictly ‘humanitarian grounds’. Homosexuality remains against the law in Malawi.
Malawi is not alone, sadly, in respect of its views and laws on homosexuality. The Stonewall Report ‘No Going Back’ (published last week) makes it terrifyingly clear how urgent and important this agenda is: Consensual acts between same-sex adults are criminalised in 80 member states of the United Nations and homosexuality results in the death penalty in six of these countries. In many countries lesbian, gay and bisexual people face execution, torture, rape and murder from people in their own community or from their government.
How do you begin a long journey? With a single step – followed by a lot more steps – as quickly as possible!