By Jack Flanagan
The news coming from Malawi may suggest a gradual shift in political opinion about LGBT rights.
Recently, Malawian President Peter Mutharika announced through his press secretary Gerald Viola that he “wants gay rights protected,” in an interview on a local radio station.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Viola reiterated Mutharika’s message of increasing tolerance for LGBT people, saying, “These people are human beings” and expressing concern about reports that gay Malawians were being “beaten and locked up.”
He said, the question about repealing the colonial era law regarding homosexuality should now be put to the Malawian people. That law punishes same-sex relations with up to 14 years in prison. In 2012, President Joyce Banda called for parliament to remove the sodomy law, but after a few months dropped the issue and oversaw the imposition of a moratorium on enforcing it. So far, no moves have been taken to introduce such a proposal in parliament or putting it to a vote.
The constitutionality of the law is currently under review in the Malawi High Court.
Because the issue is a question of human rights, it should not be decided by a popular vote but in court, many activists say.
Two men arrested despite moratorium
Mutharika’s announcement comes at an uncertain time for the moratorium, which began under his predecessor. On Dec. 7, two men were arrested on sodomy charges, in spite of the moratorium. The two men, Cuthbert Kulemela, 19, and Kelvin Gonani, 39, were arrested for engaging in sexual activity inside Gonani’s home.
The charges were later dropped. Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu then released a statement reaffirming the government’s moratorium. He excused the police on the basis the arrest was made on an alleged case of “indecent assault,” with Kulemela the alleged assaultee. Tembenu wrote: “The findings of these investigations do not disclose a case of two consenting male adults indulging in consensual sex. Rather, the evidence indicated a case of indecent assault.”
So far, there has been no statement from Kulemala to confirm this.
However, contradicting Tembenu’s statement, Gonani’s bail document states he was arrested on sodomy charges.
Msonda called the court over ‘KILL gays’ comment
As this case evolves, the Malawian debate over gay acceptance rages. The press secretary for the People’s Party, Kenneth Msonda, has been brought to court on charges of inciting violence against homosexuals. The incident began with a Facebook post by Msonda: “The best way to deal with this problem is KILL them!” He could face five years in jail.
Msonda will appear in court, but rejects the charge he did anything wrong. He said:
“[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.”
In an article Msonda wrote for the Maravi Post, he further explained his perspective on LGBT people.:
“I am waiting for their summons, am prepared to meet them in court.
“Homosexuals engaged in this satanic, dogish and demonic act who have all along been hiding behind human rights are now being exposed.
“Fellow Malawi [sic] lets join hands to fight to preserve our culture, let’s fight for cultural rights, the devil has no rights, and homosexuals have no rights.”
Timothy Mtambo, executive director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), said the issue was not specifically about violence against homosexuals, but a general one regarding Msonda’s incitement to violence.
“If he was saying we should kill all short people, we would equally drag him to court,” he said.
Msonda has called for the arrest of Mtambo, as well as Gift Trapence, programs manager for the Centre for Development of the People (CEDEP), for “promoting same-sex activity.”
While the news in Malawi tells of many people antagonistic toward LGBT people, it may also reveal a turning point in the political atmosphere. Now that the President has humanized LGBT people and spoken of his support for their human rights, it might suggest a shift in public support as well.
Jack Flanagan is a writer from London, England, United Kingdom. He is a contributor to Gay Star News, Attitude, and the Advocate. He believes LGBT rights are civil rights, and the responsibility of everyone.
- Call for police probe of anti-gay hate speech in Malawi (Jan. 6, 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Msonda faces arrest over gay attack (Jan. 5, 2016, Malawi24)
- PP’s Msonda sticks to his kill gays call despite Malawi Law Society censure (Jan. 5, 2016, Malawi News Now)
- Pastor coalition wants homosexuals re-arrested (Jan. 4, 2015, The Nation)
- Gay Malawian appeals for justice; now he’s in hiding (Jan. 2, 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Gays come out fighting: ‘Kill us or give us our rights’ (Jan. 2, 2016, The Times of Malawi)
- Malawi gay man comes out: ‘Either kill gays or give us rights’ (Jan. 2, 2016, Nyasa Times)
- Malawi drops charges against 2 arrested for gay sex (Dec. 19, 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Malawi outraged as West opposes revival of gay arrests (Dec. 19, 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Malawi arrests came with threats, assault, extortion (Dec. 16, 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Malawi police end moratorium on anti-gay arrests (Dec. 10, 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Malawi is Ready to Legalise Homosexuality’ — Mutharika (July 4, 2015, Malawi24)
- It’s official: No more Malawi arrests under anti-gay laws (July 2014, 76crimes.com)
- 3 in Malawi prisons await ruling on sodomy law
- UN joins legal challenge to Malawi’s anti-gay law (January 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Malawi High Court weighs overturning anti-gay law (November 2013, 76crimes.com)