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Amnesty urged to approve Malawian Monjeza, Tiwonge as "Prisoner of Conscience"

By Norman Miwambo

Amnesty International has been urged to approve Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga of Malawi as "Prisoners of Conscience."

The two men currently incarcerated in Chichiri Prison in Malawi on charges of homosexuality, after they celebrated their relationship in a public ceremony December last year.

The duo were arrest and denied bail in January this year after they celebrated their engagement to be married in a traditional African ceremony in late last year.

Giving his ruling at a court in the city of Blantyre, the then presiding Judge Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa claimed Monjeza (26) and Tiwonge were at risk of mob violence and would be safer in custody – a claim rejected by the defendants and their lawyers. Their trial verdict is expected on 22 March.

The call for Prisoner of Conscience status comes from the London-based the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who has previously tried three times to arrest President Robert Mugabe, in Europe.

Tatchell twice attempted to make citizen arrest Mugabe on October 30, 1999 in London. Then on March 5, 2001, stalked President Mugabe in Brussels in an attempt arrest but the Zimbabwean leader was rescued by his large number of corps, now leads the campaign for the release of the two Malawians.

LGBT human rights group, OutRage!. The group's campaign coordinator, Tatchell, has written to the Director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen. The group coordinator Peter Tatchell letter to Ms Allen reads in part: “We urge Amnesty International to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as Prisoners of Conscience...Everyone is very appreciative of the statement that Amnesty has already issued, which deplores the men's arrest and calls for their release. We are now hoping that Amnesty will go one step further and recognise them as Prisoners of Conscience."

Although, the Constitution of Malawi - Article 20 says: “Discrimination of persons in any form is prohibited and all persons are...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 two defendants Monjeza (26) and Chimbalanga (20)face a maximum sentence of 14 years jail, under Malawi's anti-gay law, section 153 of the penal code, which was originally imposed on the country by the British colonisers during the nineteenth century.

"OutRage! has made the appeal for Prisoner of Conscience status following a request for help from Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga. The two men have asked me and others to increase Malawian and international pressure to secure the dropping of all charges and their immediate release.

"Adoption by Amnesty as Prisoners of Conscience would be a great morale boost for Tiwonge and Steven. It might also help encourage a less harsh sentence, if they are found guilty when their trial verdict is announced on 22 Match. They face a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment," said Mr Tatchell.

According to Human Right Campaigner, Peter Tatchell, the continue persecution and detaining of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga violates the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights - Articles 2, 3 and 4:

Article 2, which reads; “Every individual shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognized and guaranteed in the present Charter without distinction of any kind such as race, ethnic group, color, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national and social origin, fortune, birth or other status. Article 3; every individual shall be equal before the law. 2. Every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.

Article 4 ; Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may be arbitrarily deprived of this right. All the three article outline the rights of Monjeza and Tiwonge which has been denied by Malawian authorities.