This is a press release from Peter Tatchell
Call for “Prisoner of Conscience” status for Steven & Tiwonge
London, UK – 9 March 2010
Amnesty International is being urged to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as “Prisoners of Conscience.” The two men are in Chichiri prison in Malawi on charges of homosexuality, after they celebrated their relationship in a public ceremony last December. Their trial verdict is expected on 22 March.
The call for Prisoner of Conscience status comes from the London-based LGBT human rights group, OutRage!. The group’s campaign coordinator, Peter Tatchell, has written to the Director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen. He wrote to Ms Allen:
“We urge Amnesty International to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as Prisoners of Conscience…Everyone is very appreciative of the statement that Amnesty has already issued, which deplores the men’s arrest and calls for their release. We are now hoping that Amnesty will go one step further and recognise them as Prisoners of Conscience.”
“OutRage! has made the appeal for Prisoner of Conscience status following a request for help from Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga. The two men have asked me and others to increase Malawian and international pressure to secure the dropping of all charges and their immediate release.
“Adoption by Amnesty as Prisoners of Conscience would be a great morale boost for Tiwonge and Steven. It might also help encourage a less harsh sentence, if they are found guilty when their trial verdict is announced on 22 Match. They face a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment,” said Mr Tatchell.
A full copy of the OutRage! letter to Kate Allen of Amnesty International UK follows below.
Dear Kate Allen,
As you know, Steven Monjeza (26) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20) were arrested in Malawi on 28 December 2009 on charges of homosexuality, after they celebrated their engagement to be married in a traditional African ceremony.
They have been refused bail and held in Chichiri Prison ever since – for nearly three months. If convicted, they face a sentence of up to 14 years jail. The trial verdict is expected on 22 March.
We urge Amnesty International to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as “Prisoners of Conscience.”
I am acting in response to their request for me and others to assist them and at the request of their friends and supporters in Malawi.
Everyone is very appreciative of the statement that Amnesty has already issued, which deplores the men’s arrest and calls for their release. We are now hoping that Amnesty will go one step further and recognise them as “prisoners of conscience.”
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have not committed any crime by holding a same-sex engagement ceremony. This ceremony is not illegal under Malawian law.
Moreover, no one has witnessed them committing any illegal same-sex act and there is no forensic evidence to prove that they have committed criminal offences.
Even if they did have a sexual relationship, it is ethically wrong to prosecute them for consenting private behaviour that harms no one.
Their prosecution is illegal. It is contrary to section 20 of the Malawi constitution, which outlaws all discrimination. Criminalising adult same-sex relations when similar opposite-sex relations are lawful is discrimination and is unconstitutional.
The prosecution of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga also violates the equal treatment provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which Malawi has signed and pledged to uphold.
See details of the Malawian constitution and the African Charter below.
I would be most grateful if you could confirm Amnesty International’s willingness and intention to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as “prisoners of conscience” and to campaign for their release.
Yours with much appreciation of your human rights endeavours,