|Stephane Tchakam, ILGA|
|Stephane Tchakam, ILGA|
The Malawi Law Society (MLS), a constitutionally-recognised body that represents the interests of lawyers and the legal profession in Malawi, has called for the immediate release on bail of Malawi's incarcerated first openly gay couple, saying the society does not pose a danger to them and vice versa.
In a statement published in the local media, MLS Secretary Jabber Alide was quoted as saying the two - like all accused persons in Malawi - should be presumed innocent until proved otherwise by the court of law.
“We feel that the reasons for being denied bail were not meritable,” he said.
Steven Monjeza, 26, and his 20-year-old partner, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were arrested on 27 December after their Christmas Box public engagement ceremony ahead of their planned wedding in the new year.
They have since been charged with puggery or unnatural acts among males and gross indecency, both felonies that can see them jailed for up to 14 years on conviction.
They both deny the charges but both the Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrates Court and the High Court denied them bail for what the two courts said was for “their own safety”.
But Alide wondered what could happen if the two are eventually acquitted. “Are they going to go back to their respective homes?” he wondered.
The arrest of the couple re-ignited a fervent debate about homosexuality in this highly-conservative homophobic society. Malawi laws criminalise same-sex liaisons and religious leaders equate homosexual acts to Satanism.
But gradually more and more people are coming out to profess their homosexuality. A research by Centre for the Development of people (CEDEP), a civil society group that looks after the interests of minority groups, including gays, lesbians and prostitutes, indicates wide-spread homosexual acts in Malawi, especially in prisons.
CEDEP's Executive Director Gift Trapence said it was high time the rights of homosexuals were recognised so that they are integrated in the fight against HIV/AIDS, saying HIV prevalence rates among homosexuals are way above the national 14 per cent.
Western donor countries and agencies, who bankroll up to 40 per cent of Malawi's development budget, have also joined the fray, saying donors may be forced to review their aid packages to Malawi if minority groups like homosexuals continue to be discriminated against, persecuted or marginalised.
But Malawian authorities, backed by religious leaders, remain steadfast on the issue with President Bingu wa Mutharika openly expressing his disquiet on the issue, calling it “unMalawian”.
Meanwhile, Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa is set to deliver his much-anticipated ruling on the issue on 18 May.