Wednesday , 22 January 2020

SNP politicians: Malawi, drop charges against men arrested tortured for gay sex

Flag of Malawi
Flag of Malawi

SNP MPs and MSPs called for the UK to do all it can to have Malawi drop charges against two men who were arrested and assaulted for allegedly having gay sex.

Cuthbert Kulemela, 19, and Kelvin Gonani, 39, were arrested on 7 of December for allegedly having sex at Gonani’s home. They were charged and detained, despite a 2012 decision by Malawi officials to halt such arrests.

The two met, and went home to Gonani’s home on 6 December, after having a drink in the city of Lilongwe.

When Kulemera left he was caught by the community police who assaulted him until he confessed he had sex with Gonani.

Gonani’s home was then invaded by the community police and neighbours who ransacked his home, assaulted him and suggested that they should be burned alive.

They were then transferred to Nsugwi police station where they assaulted, humiliated in public, strip naked and subjected to forced medical tests.

Police also took photos and circulated them on social media, thus outing them and putting their lives further at risk from the Malawi public at large.

Kulemela and Gonani were granted police bail on Dec. 8. Their bail bond form indicates that they are being charged with sodomy in violation of Section 153 of the Penal Code (carnal knowledge against the order of nature), which is punishable by a prison sentence of 14 years.

Excerpt from the bail document shows that, despite denials, Malawi police made an arrest for alleged sodomy.

The US ambassador to Malawi demanded that the charges against the two dropped and their safety secured.

Brock Deidre MP
Brock Deidre MP

Raising the issue at the Commons, Deidre Brock, SNP Member of Parliament (MP) for Edinburgh North, called upon the UK government to act: “Will the Government make urgent representations to the Malawian Government, echoing the calls of the US ambassador, calling on them to live up to their international human rights obligations and ensure that these charges are dropped?”

Justine Greening MP, who is the Secretary of State for Department for International Development (DFID) and the most senior minister responsible for all UK aid, confirmed to the Commons that government will be confronting Malawi over the issue.

Patrick Grady MP
Patrick Grady MP

And later SNP MP Patrick Grady standing on a point of order, made a follow up to the matter, demanding the UK governed acts now: “These are very concerning reports that two consenting adults have been arrested and persecuted for a completely private and intimate act. LGBTI rights are human rights and must be respected universally.

“I urge the UK Government to use its diplomatic ties with Malawi to do everything it can to ensure these charges are dropped.”

He added: “Essentially, it appears that they have been arrested for being gay. This is probably as much of an issue for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as it is for DFID, so I am glad that there are FCO Ministers present. I hope the government will respond in the same way as the Secretary of State for DFID did by condemning the action.”

While Michael Russell MSP said: “Given Scotland’s close partnership with Malawi, I’m today calling on the Scottish Government to relay the concerns of many people across Scotland at the arrest in a spirit of friendship.”

Michael Russell MSP
Michael Russell MSP

Speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, said the arrest news of the two men is, “frankly, horrifying–it is absolutely horrifying news indeed.”

He said: “Of course, there is a direct locus for the Secretary of State and the Department for International Development in view of our continuing commitment to Malawi.”

UK High Commission in Lilongwe indicated that Britain remains committed to ensuring that all LGBTI people around the world are free to live their lives in a safe and just environment.

Malawi government is being asked to defend human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds.

Gift Trapence, executive director of the Malawian human rights organization CEDEP (Centre for the Development of People), which promotes the sexual health and human rights of minority groups, said:  “We are worried that the Malawi government is failing to implement its own local and internal commitments on human rights. Foremost we expected the government to protect all Malawi citizens equally.

Malawi’s previous president, Joyce Banda, unsuccessfully called for the repeal of Malawi’s anti-sodomy law; but introduced a moratorium on arrests from November 2012.

African human rights activists fear that under the current administration under president, Peter Mutharika, who took office in 2014, has now changed the country’s policy on arrests.

The Commons’ Chairmperson of the All Party Parliamentary Group of Zambia and Malawi, Oliver Colvie MP said was deeply disturbed by the arrest and expressed concern that Mutharika’s government did not respect the moratorium: “Whilst President Mutharika took the very welcome step to apply for the Global Fund for aid for LGBTI health services, I am concerned that there are elements within the government that are no longer following this moratorium.”

He further called upon Malawi Police to drop the charges against the two men and ensure the Moratorium on Malawi’s anti-LGBTI laws.

However, Malawi’s minister of Justice, Samuel Tembenu, confirmed the moratorium was still in place but the ministry was investigating “circumstances that led to the arrest of the two.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur has previously called on the First Minister to work with the government of Malwai to help boost LGBTI rights and widen access to HIV/AIDS treatment services.

About Dan Littauer

Dan Littauer is a journalist who specializes in LGBTI current affairs, travel writing, feature writing and investigative journalism. He is a correspondent for LGBTQ Nation, ManAboutWorld, and previously worked for Gay Star News, PinkNews, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Gay Middle East, Lonely Planet as well as contributing occasionally to the BBC, Al-Jazeera, CNN and The Guardian. He also had an extensive career outside journalism, which included teaching psychoanalysis and social science, and consultancy work for the travel market. When he is not busy writing, he can be spotted rambling around the stunning Scottish landscape, where he lives, spending time at home with his cat.

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