Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Discrimination Continues as Malawian Court Moves Forward to Prosecute Couple - IGLHRC

For Immediate Release
Monica Mbaru, Africa Program Coordinator, IGLHRC
(27) 21- 469-3704, mmbaru@iglhrc.org
(New York, March 22, 2010) – The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) is dismayed by today's ruling by a Blantyre, Malawi court that continued the case against a couple arrested in December 2009 and charged under Sections 153 and 156 of the Malawian penal code for "unnatural offences" and "indecent practices between males." Tionge Chimbalanga Kachepa and Steven Monjeza Soko were arrested and charged after they held a traditional engagement ceremony attended by friends and family that was subsequently reported and sensationalized in the Malawian media. The opportunity for Steven and Tionge to defend their case has been scheduled by the court for March 29th.
Speaking after the ruling, IGLHRC Southern Africa Program staffer Chivuli Ukwimi, speaking from the organization's Cape Town office, stated, "This ruling is the most recent in a line of deeply troubling decisions and actions by the Malawian authorities in this case, including the decision to deny bail to Steven and Tionge, claiming that their continued incarceration is for their own safety."

The arrests, prolonged and arbitrary pre-trial detention, and the subsequent mistreatment of Tionge and Steven while incarcerated – including being subjected to forced anal examinations to "confirm" sodomy charges – violate their rights under the Malawian Constitution, which guarantees the rights to equality (Article 20), to freedom of association, conscience, opinion, and expression (Articles 32-35), and to the enjoyment of a cultural life of one's choice (Article 26). The arrests also violate Malawi's international human rights commitments, including the rights to privacy and non-discrimination that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees to all regardless of sexual orientation, as well as the rights to equality, dignity, security and life in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (Articles 3-6).

"The continued detention of Tionge and Steven is an outrage and a clear violation of the rights to privacy, self-expression and non-discrimination, which are rights for all Malawians regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity," said Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. "This couple was part of a community, and an injustice to one is an injustice to all."

IGLHRC has visited Steven and Tionge in Chipiri prison on five occasions, offering them support from the international LGBT and human-rights communities. IGLHRC's Africa Office has been part of a Pan-African support team sharing legal opinions with lawyers working on the case in Malawi and working with others in the human-rights community calling on Malawian authorities to release the two.

"This case has had devastating effects on efforts to address the spread of HIV among men who have sex with men in Malawi," stated Johnson. "Many of these men have gone underground for fear of arrest and criminalization."

IGLHRC calls upon the government of Malawi to respect its commitments under its own Constitution and international law by immediately releasing Steven and Tionge and repealing Sections 153 and 156 of the Malawian penal code."

For general media inquiries, please contact:
Sam Cook, Director of Communications, IGLHRC
1-212-430-6023, scook@iglhrc.org

Discrimination Continues as Malawian Court Moves Forward to Prosecute Couple - 
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