Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reversal of Fortune in Malawi

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Photo by Brett Lock, OutRage!

It’s all over the international news already but we would be remiss if we did not join the rest of the world in celebrating the good news.

On Saturday, May 29, 2010, Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, pardoned gay couple Steven Menjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga who had been sentenced to 14 years in prison after their conviction on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency. The men are to be released immediately without condition. Hopefully, as you read this that has already occurred.

While the pardon concludes a horrific 18 month odyssey for Steven and Tiwonge, there is still much work to do in the region regarding changing attitudes about LGBT culture. In granting the pardon on” humanitarian grounds” , the head of state was also careful to express that he by no means condoned the actions of the gay couple as they conflict with Malawi laws, religion and culture. Remember, this is the same man who last month publicly declared that being gay is “evil and bad before the eyes of God” and something “we Malawians just do not do.”

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the pardon came after a meeting with UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon in the Malawi capital this week. After all, it is estimated that 40% of Malawi’s economy is tied to humanitarian aid from the international community. Mr. Ban is continuing to turn up the heat as he plans to address Malawi’s National Assembly and will ask the legislators to change the local laws on homosexuality.

With the world watching and countless human rights activists/organizations pursuing this unjust incarceration, great pressure was brought to bear. This contributed greatly to the release of Steven and Tiwonge. Vigilant, hard work that led, after 18 long months, to a measure of gay justice in a place where it is often in short supply.

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