Malawi President Bingu Pardons Lovers

Source: Norman S. Miwambo

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika finally pardoned the couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who were recently sentenced to 14 years hard labour on charges of homosexuality. Campaigners have said that “Justice at last for Steven and Tiwonge"

The decision was reached after an extensive meeting between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Bingu on Saturday, May 29.

“I have pardoned the two on humanitarian ground. But what they did is criminal and against our culture,” said President Bingu who could no longer sustain the world gay community.

In a single week the UN Secretary General, Mr Ki-moonhas been the second top world celebrity to join the long queue to demand for release of Steven and Tiwonge since Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa delivered a 14 years jail sentence last week.

Last week pop singer Madonna issued a statement call for the progressive men and women around the world to challenge the decision.

In her statement last week Madonna said: “As a matter of principle, I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race colour, religion or sexual orientation.” She made a call saying: “I call upon the progressive men and women and around the world to challenge this decision in the name of human dignity and equal rights for all.”

Peter Tatchell, the British human rights campaigner who has been following the case since the arrest of the gay lover last December, in his comment said: “Our thanks to President Bingu and Ban Ki Moon for ending this terrible injustice.”

Mr Tatchell championed Steven and Tiwonge's case and support them personally, arranging prison visits, food parcels and medicine.

“Steven and Tiwonge should never have been arrested, let alone jailed for five months, convicted and sentenced to 14 years hard labour,” said Mr Tatchell, adding that: “They love one another and have harmed no one.”

He added: "I hope the government of Malawi will now show true humanitarian leadership by repealing the criminalisation of homosexuality and enacting laws to protect gay people against discrimination and hate crimes, as South Africa has done.”

"As someone who supported the people of Malawi in the 1970s and 80s, when they struggled against the dictatorship of Dr Hastings Banda, I urge the Malawian government to continue the transition to democracy and human rights by ensuring equality for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens," said Mr Tatchell.

The hugely publicised case has made it known how the organised groups can change politics and the dictatorial mentality of African leaders. Since December 28, 2009, the Steven and Tiwonge case attracted the media attention, Amnesty International and politicians. In March, Amnesty International adopted the Malawian gay couple as “Prisoners of Conscience” and continued to campaign for their release. In the same month a total of sixty five (65) British Members of Parliament signed an early Day Motion (EDM 564) condemning the arrest of Steven and Tiwonge on charges of homosexual relationship. The campaigners continued to threaten to lobby the donor community countries to suspend aid to Malawi, a move that has been described as a strong ground that has also prompted the government change mind. Other African countries acting against the African Charter of which they are signatory, have to adopt draconian laws against homosexuality. In Uganda a Member of Parliament, David Bahati who is also a member of the country's ruling party, National Resistance Movement (NRM) designed an Anti-gay Bill which is under Parliament, although, it also received enormous protests including world's powerful men. Mr Bahati's Anti-gay Bill in Uganda proposes to have all homosexuals sentenced to death if found guilty. US President Barack Obama early this year called it 'Odious', and several donors countries to Uganda have threaten to slash their aid to country if the bill is passed.

Also in the Uganda Anti-gay Bill, 118 British MPs, in April this year signed an EDM. The EDM, was drafted by then East London Labour MP Harry Cohen and Human Rights campaigner Mr Tatchell, which then argued the Ugandan government to uphold international humanitarian laws by abandoning the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which decriminalising same- sex acts between consenting adults in private, and outlawing discrimination against gay people. It is yet to be dropped.

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