|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
At least 18 people died in violent anti-government protests in Malawi on Wednesday. Protesters are accusing President Bingu wa Mutharika of mismanaging the economy and trampling democratic rights. Both the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), the opposition party, have scapegoated LGBTI persons in the conflict.
The Nyasa Times reports:
Leader of United Democratic Front (UDF) in parliament, Ibrahim Matola, has claimed that men who sleeps with their fellow men (gays) are infested in the DPP-led government.
Matola speaking at a news conference in Lilongwe on Sunday said government is using gay rights issues to distract Malawians from real issues, yet it has gays in its top rank and file.
“It is them the government who started this issue of gays not us,” said Matola.
He was reacting to presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba’s statement that organisers of the July 20 demonstrations have been receiving “huge” sums of money from gay rights bodies outside the country.
But Matola said government was running scared because Malawians are angry with bad economic and democratic governance by the current administration.
He said government would not succeed to distract Malawians from real issues by using gay issue.
Matola claimed there are gays in DPP and that homosexuality was endorsed by President Bingu wa Mutharika when he pardoned he country’s first openly gay couple that was convicted of practicing homosexuality and sentenced to the maximum 14 years in jail.
“It is Mutharika who pardoned aunt Tiwo (Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a gay),” pointed out Matola.
“There are gays in DPP,” he said but did not disclose identities of the people who practice homosexuality despite rumours circulating that one presidential hopeful is in the practise of sodomy.
Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and President Mutharika has vowed that the practice would never be legalised under his leadership. Mutharika recently delivered a blistering attack on homosexuality describing those who practise it as “worse than dogs” saying it was abhorrent.
Government has been accusing local human rights groups campaigning for minority rights of being funded by foreign interests.
This is not the first accusation that foreign funding of LGBTI groups is being used to destabilise the government. The Malawi government recently claimed that Norwegian and Dutch funding of NGOs working for LGBTI human rights is "being used by external forces to destabilize the government...These are the people who are being used as agents from the government’s enemies."
Undule Mwakasungure, Chairman of Malawi's Human Rights Consultative Committee, helped organise the protests in coalition with other civil society organisations. He also happens to be an outspoken LGBTI human rights activist. He believes that police acted aggressively against demonstrators.
“The unprofessional conduct of the police; where the police started to push people out of the central [assembly] points while people were still waiting to hear from civil society leaders on what would be the next move, so in that process people became violent, and the police also started throwing tear gas,” said Mwakasungure.
Mwakasungure said President Mutharika's government has been passing laws that curtail democratic rights, that stifle dissent and free speech, and that this has resulted in anger building up over a lengthy period.
“The country is going through hardships in terms of the economy, but also we are seeing so many challenges in terms of our promotion of our democratic principles. We have seen the government passing undemocratic bills, the government suppressing the freedom of the press, the government threatening human rights defenders, the government suppressing the voice of Malawians,” said Mwakasungure.
The scapegoating of LGBTI persons in this conflict has spread to other countries like Zimbabwe.