Government has bowed down to benefactors and human rights bodies by dropping all charges against two alleged homosexuals arrested in Lilongwe last week.
Police at Kanengo arrested 19-year-old Cuthbert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, 39, following a commotion that erupted in Area 25 Township after some residents got infuriated with allegations that the two engaged in a homosexuality act at one of the suspects’ home.
The development prompted the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), Germany and Human Rights Watch (HRW) to ask Malawi to drop charges levelled against the two men, arguing by doing so the country was breaking its moratorium on consensual same-sex conduct.
The arrests of the two came at a time government has been touting to international human rights Nations (UN), that there was a moratorium on arrests, detention and prosecution of people alleged to have engaged in homosexual practices.
But in a statement issued Friday night, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said in re-affirming its commitment to observing the moratorium, government had decided to drop all the charges against the two men.
“Government is re-affirming its commitment to observing the moratorium. In light of this commitment, the two gentlemen have been released from custody and all the charges dropped,” reads the statement signed by Tembenu.
Last week, the minister told The Nation his ministry was investigating the circumstances surrounding the arrest of the suspects before coming up with a decision.
However, Tembenu said in the statement after conducting its investigations into the arrests, their findings “do not disclose a case of two consenting male adults indulging in consensual sex.”
Reads the statement: “Rather, the evidence indicated a case of indecent assault hence, the diligence on the part of the police to require medical examination in order to establish the truth. The ministry has not detected any prejudice or malice on the part of the conduct of the police.”
Tembenu said Malawi, as a member of the international community, was also committed to adhere to universally accepted
human rights standards and acknowledges the views expressed by international human rights bodies that the inclusion of offences prohibiting homosexuality in the country’s legislation may be at variance with the views held by such bodies.
In its letter to Tembenu last week, the HRW said by dropping charges, Malawi would be upholding the African Commission Resolution 275 of 2013, which calls for member States to cease arbitrary arrests and to protect individuals from violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Reacting to the development, Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapence commended government for dropping the charges and also re-affirming its commitment to international human rights obligations.
“We also commend the government for its commitment to implementing the moratorium and also to review the sodomy laws. It is our hope that the moratorium position will be officially communicated to the police so that they are able to adhere to it.
“It also our expectation that as we are in the process of reviewing the sodomy laws culture and religion will not be used as a tool to suppress or discriminate other sections of the Malawian society,” said Trapence.
He also urged government to address the human rights abuses the two men suffered while in the hands of police and medical personnel.
Malawi is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the right to privacy and the right to non-discrimination of all people.
The country also suspended enforcement of anti-gay laws, among them Sections 137(a), 153, 154 and 156 of the Penal Code pending a High Court review of their constitutionality, but this has not been concluded, HRW said. n