Friday, February 5, 2010
Malawi man arrested for putting up gay rights posters
Steven Monjeza, left, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who were arrested after their gay wedding in Malawi, wait for a bail hearing. Photograph: Eldson Chagara/Reuters
A man has been arrested in Malawi for putting up posters championing gay rights in the latest sign of official intolerance towards homosexuality.
Police said Peter Sawali, 21, was found with stacks of expertly and expensively printed posters displaying such messages as "Gay rights are human rights". Police added that officers were searching for other Malawians whom they believed were working on a campaign with outside help.
The debate over gay rights has intensified in Malawi after the first same-sex couple to attempt marriage were arrested last December and charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency, which could result in a 14-year jail sentence.
A police spokesman, Dave Chingwalu, said the man arrested for putting up posters would be charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of peace, punishable with a fine of up to 5,000 kwacha (about £20) or up to three months in prison.
"We are still investigating because we believe there is a chain of people who were working with Sawali," Chingwalu said. "We cannot rule out international sponsors because of the quality and the quantity of the posters. They might even have been produced outside."
A group of Malawian human rights activists recently formed the Centre for the Development of People to fight for the rights of homosexuals and other minorities. The group says studies show that homophobic legislation is driving gay people underground and making it harder to reach them with information that could protect them from Aids.
Another group, Broad Coalition, has distributed leaflets, posters and pictures promoting gay rights but keeps the names of its members secret.
Malawi has been criticised by human rights groups for prosecuting Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, who have been in custody since their wedding celebration. Their next hearing is on Friday.
Mauya Msuku, the couple's lawyer, said the laws under which they were charged were archaic and unconstitutional. "The penal code criminalises homosexuality or same-sex marriages but under the bill of rights in the new constitution it is clearly stated that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of – among other things – sexual orientation," he said.
Msuku has asked the country's chief justice for a constitutional review.