Malawi’s President Binguwa Mutharika has ordered the immediate release of the two LGBT people who were imprisoned because of their sexual orientation, after allegedly holding an engagement ceremony last December.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who is a male-female transgendered person, were granted a presidential pardon on humanitarian grounds in a case that provoked international condemnation and opened up an important debate about homosexuality within the country.
The presidential pardon means an annulment of the 14-years with hard labour prison sentence that was handed down to the ‘couple’ by Malawi’s courts for ‘gross indecency and unnatural acts’.
Days before the pardon, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, addressed Malawi’s National Assembly calling on legislators to reform and repeal those laws that discriminate against homosexuality.
“I urge all countries to show moral and political courage in combating discrimination in all its forms. Malawi should be known throughout the world for its successes in combating poverty and hunger, not for outdated laws on homosexuality,” he stated.
After his meeting with Ki-Moon, Malawi's President announced that the pair would be freed without condition. However, he clarified that he did so “on humanitarian grounds,” and it did not mean that he supported homosexual partnership rights. He added: “We don't condone marriages of this nature. It's unheard of in Malawi and it's illegal.”
While this is an unprecedented decision, the Human Rights Commission in Malawi has pointed out that the pair’s pardon “does not change the laws that homosexual acts are illegal in the country.”
Many human rights activists have decried that these laws violate the equality and non-discrimination provisions of the Malawian Constitution and the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, where it is stated that “discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited.”
EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said that he hoped: “The government of Malawi will now show humanitarian leadership by decriminalising homosexuality and enacting laws to protect LGBT people.”
“The decision taken by Malawi’s President should be emulated by leaders of those 33 African states that still have laws which discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation,” he added.