Malawi sets grave example with conviction of gay couple

In January this year, I wrote about an outrageous draft bill before the Ugandan Parliament that would have sanctioned blatant discrimination against gay people.

In the same post, I mentioned a Malawian gay couple that was being prosecuted after getting engaged to marry.

I hoped then that justice would prevail but alas, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were this week convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison with hard labor.

Discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people goes back a long way across the world. What is shocking is that while a number of countries, including African countries, are taking steps to dismantle such discrimination, others like Malawi are heading in the opposite direction.

The conviction and reported mistreatment of the Malawian gay couple sets an alarming precedent in the region for the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as groups that support them.

If governments across the world were to follow Malawi's example, we would have rampant violations of privacy and millions of people in consensual relationships criminalized.

Some people have the audacity to justify discrimination against gay people on grounds of culture or claimed "public support". Freedom from discrimination cannot be a matter of when, where or how one was born; it is matter of fundamental human rights.

Laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation are inherently discriminatory. They violate international human rights treaties, including the African Charter on Human and People's Rights.

Persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not only an affront to civil liberties, but it serves to drive them underground, which can have a disastrous effect on the fight against HIV/AIDS. I see no legal, moral or practical justification for any such discrimination.

I appeal to the Malawian authorities to not only repeal the conviction of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, but also do away with laws that discriminate against gay people.

I hope that next time I write about this subject, it will be to celebrate a human rights victory in this area.