Call for police probe of anti-gay hate speech in Malawi

Anti-gay politicians and preachers in Malawi have responded harshly to the government’s decision on Dec. 19 to continue the country’s moratorium on arrests for violations of its law against same-sex intercourse.

John Suzi-Banda, president of the Malawi Law Society. (Photo courtesy of Nyasa Times)
John Suzi-Banda, president of the Malawi Law Society. (Photo courtesy of Nyasa Times)

In return, the Malawi Law Society has asked police and the Malawi Human Rights Commission to investigate recent anti-gay statements as hate speech, a criminal offense.

Enforcement of the law has been suspended since November 2012 while courts decide whether the law is unconstitutional and politicians decide whether it should be repealed. The law calls for sentences of 14 years for violations by men and five years for women.

Three men who were convicted in 2011, before the moratorium was announced, are serving sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years for homosexuality.

The moratorium was challenged last month when police in Lilongwe arrested two men on Dec. 7, but, under pressure from both gay-friendly and anti-gay advocates, the government on Dec. 19 reaffirmed the suspension of arrests and announced that charges had been dropped against the two men.

The country’s debate over homosexuality intensified after The Times of Malawi published an interview with two gay men under the headline, “Gays come out fighting: ‘Kill us or give us our rights.’ ”

A columnist for the Nyasa Times wrote that although homosexuality is a “sinful lifestyle,” it should be decriminalized.

Ken Msonda, Peoples Party spokesperson, calls for homosexuals to be killed. (Photo courtesy of Nyasa Times)
Ken Msonda, People’s Party spokesperson, calls for homosexuals to be killed. (Photo courtesy of Nyasa Times)

But soon afterwards, Ken Msonda, spokesperson for the former ruling People’s Party, reportedly posted on Facebook that Malawian gays “are worse than dogs,” that gays and lesbians are “sons and daughters of the devil” and should in fact be killed.

In response, the Malawi Law Society declared that Msonda’s remarks were hate speech that should be investigated by police and the Malawi Human Rights Commission. The society stated:

“Calling on members of the LGBTI community to be killed is hate speech and is not protected by the constitution. It is in fact criminal. It is in view of the foregoing that the Malawi Law Society has taken the unusual step of referring the alleged conduct of Mr Msonda to the Malawi Human Rights Commission and the Malawi Police Service so that they investigate the said conduct and take appropriate action.”

Msonda did not back down. He told reporters that he stood by his Facebook comments. He told Malawi News Now:

“[The Malawi Law Society] is now misleading us by supporting homosexuality, which is against our laws. This country will soon turn into a lawless nation because our laws are being applied selectively. Our laws are clear on homosexuality: it is a crime. I stand by what I said.”

Malawi24 quoted him today as saying that those who endorse human rights for LGBTI people are gay themselves: “They should not be hiding from defending human rights, let them just come open and tell Malawians that they are gays,” he said, according to the article “Msonda brands human rights defenders as ‘homosexuals.’ “

The Young Pastors Coalition of Malawi urged the government to re-arrest the two men whom it freed last month. The group said that “homosexuals’ rights should not be given room in Malawi; hence, the need to re-arrest gays that were released last month.”

Gift Trapence, executive director of the gay-friendly Centre for Development of People, criticized the pastors’ stand, saying that Malawi is a secular state where religious beliefs and culture should not be used as basis for oppressing others.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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