JWG disgusted at Malawi gay sentencing
Joint Working Group disgusted at the Conviction and Sentencing of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. Call for sustained action.
The Joint Working Group (JWG), a network Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) organizations throughout South Africa were horrified by this morning’s confirmation that Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been sentenced to 14 years in prison with hard labour following their conviction earlier this week on charges of gross indecency and unnatural acts. Not only is this sentence draconian in nature but the conviction itself was both procedurally problematic and based on the implementation of laws that defy all notions of human rights not least those enshrined in Malawi’s own Constitution.
Article 20 of the Malawian Constitution states that: “discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are, under any law, guaranteed equal and effective protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnic or social origin, disability, property, birth or other status”. The Constitution also states in Article 5 that any laws that are inconsistent with the Constitution are invalid. The laws under which this case was tried, colonial era throwbacks that remain in Malawi’s penal code, must surely be exactly the target of this article.
From their arrest in December last year through to their sentencing today Steven and Tiwonge have been treated in the most horrific fashion at every stage. The outcome of their trial rendered almost inevitable by the obvious bias shown by every facet of the criminal justice system including that of the presiding Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa who stated in explanation for his sentence that “I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example.”
The conviction and sentencing comes in the wake of a wave of attacks on the rights of gay and lesbian people both in Malawi and in other parts of the continent. Late last month Malawian police invaded a conference on the inclusion of LGBT people in HIV/Aids programming and demanded the names of participants, in Uganda the odious Anti-homosexuality bill continues (despite setbacks) to hang like an axe over the heads of gay and lesbian people. While homophobic utterances from political leaders across the continent threaten the lives and dignity of people like Steven and Tiwonge who’s only “crime” is to want to openly declare their love for one another.
All the while the South African government continues to say and do nothing. Sovereignty is used as a rationale to excuse the abject silence of the South African state on matters where their actions should clearly be informed by the principles enshrined in our own Constitution, including its specific protection of the rights of gay and lesbian people. These principles seem conveniently forgotten the moment the government is operating outside of our borders, they are guilty not only of a failure to speak out but even of actively contributing to the problem with actions such as the appointment of Jon Qwelane as our High Commissioner to Uganda and their refusal to sign a UN General Assembly statement affirming that body’s commitment to the rights of gay and lesbian people.
The Joint Working Group acknowledges all actions undertaken to date both in South Africa and internationally and call on all South Africans in solidarity with activists in Malawi, across the continent and the world to commit to sustain this activism. Specifically we demand:
• That the Malawian Government expedite the release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga from custody
• That in line with Articles 5 and 20 of the Malawian Constitution the colonial era laws related to unnatural acts and any others that could be used to prosecute homosexuals are scrapped
• That the South African Government immediately issue a statement condemning this conviction and sentence and clearly state this country’s commitment to promoting the rights of LGBTI people not only in South Africa but across the world
We will continue to organise and mobilise around these demands and call on all South Africans to support all actions in this regard over the coming weeks and months.
For more information please contact:
Joint Working Group
011 403 5566
011 403 5567
The JWG is made up of the following member organisations
- Activate WITS
- Behind the Mask
- Coalition of African Lesbians
- Durban Gay and Lesbian Community
- D Gayle
- Forum for the Empowerment of Women
- Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action
- Gay and Lesbian Network (PMB)
- Gay Umbrella
- Gender DynamiX
- Glorious Light MCC
- Good Hope MCC
- Hope and Unity MCC
- Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM)
- Jewish Outlook
- Out in Africa
- OUT LGBT Well-being
- OUT Rhodes
- The Inner Circle
- Lesbian and Gay Equality Project
- Triangle Project
- Unisa Centre for Applied Psychology
- XX/Y Flame