Blantyre, Malawi, Jan. 20 (MaraviPost) _ The High Court in Blantyre Monday started hearing a case whose outcome may determine the future of Malawi homophobic laws.
Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), a civil rights group that campaigns for minority rights including those for sexual minorities, took government to court to review the conviction of three men who are serving long jail terms for their homosexual acts.
In 2011 by a lower court, the Blantyre Magistrates’ Court, sentenced Amon Champyuni, Mathews Bello and Mussa Chiwisi to between six and 12 years imprisonment with hard after falling afoul of Malawi’s tough homophobic laws. Under the southern African country’s laws unnatural acts and buggery can earn a convict a maximum of 14 years imprisonment with hard labour.
Gift Trapence, CEDEP’s Executive Director, said the activists want the court to declare the laws that criminalise homosexuality in Malawi unconstitutional.
“As long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private, no one has business to get bothered,” he said.
A number of civil rights groups, including the Malawi Law Society, have rallied behind CEDEP in fighting for the nullification of the country’s homophobic laws.
But Chief State Advocate Zolomphi Nkowani argued that the three men flouted Malawi laws as they are at the moment.
Justice Dunstain Mwaungulu, one of Malawi’s liberal judges, is hearing the case.
Malawi’s homophobic laws gained global notoriety in December 2009 when the country’s first openly gay couple, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were arrested for performing a public wedding engagement ceremony. They spent five months in jail without bail until in May 2010 when they were convicted for ‘unnatural offenses’ and ‘indecent practices between males’ and were subsequently jailed for 14 years imprisonment with hard labour in what presiding Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa famously dubbed as ‘scary sentence’.
The conviction and long sentence got worldwide condemnation. It had to take no lesser a personage than United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who flew to Lilongwe, to secure a grudging pardon from then President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Despite that case Malawi’s largely conservative society is still homophobic so much that when President Joyce Banda, who took over power after Bingu WA Mutharika suddenly died of heart attack in April 2012, was roundly condemned when she called on Parliament to review the country’s homophobic laws in her first State of the Nation address in May 2012.-maravipost