amfAR Welcomes Pardon of Malawi Couple
Foundation continues to express concerns about violations of human rights that hinder the fight against AIDS
For Immediate Release
Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager
NEW YORK, June 3, 2010—amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, on Thursday welcomed the presidential pardon of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, a couple sentenced to 14 years in prison in Malawi, but expressed concern that there are continued acts of state-sanctioned persecution in Southern Africa that are clear violations of human rights.
After meeting with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President Bingu wa Mutharika on Saturday ordered the release of Chimbalanga and Monjeza, who had been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being arrested in December for a public engagement celebration. The two were convicted under the Malawi Penal Code, and the 14-year sentence was the maximum the judge could have imposed.
Elsewhere in the region, in Zimbabwe, two staff members from the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), Ellen Chademana and Ignatius Mhambi, were arrested on allegations of possessing indecent material—namely, pamphlets about HIV prevention. They were released on bail until their trial date of June 10, and have since alleged that they were tortured while held in jail.
Malawi and Zimbabwe, like more than 70 other countries, criminalize same-sex sexual behavior between consenting adults, and men who have sex with men (MSM) are often forced to live in the shadows and beyond the reach of public health services.
“While the news from Malawi is encouraging, all countries should work to repeal and reform policies that discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “Laws that criminalize same-sex behavior not only violate human rights, they dangerously undermine efforts to promote health and address HIV and AIDS among socially marginalized groups, including MSM, who are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic.”
According to United Nations estimates, fewer than ten percent of MSM were reached by basic HIV prevention services in 2007. And in countries such as Malawi, where homophobia is widespread, HIV/AIDS workers can face harassment, intimidation, and even violence, ultimately impeding efforts to control and end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Kent Klindera, program manager of amfAR’s MSM Initiative, added that amfAR’s partners in Southern Africa who are working to help prevent the spread of HIV have also been subjected to discrimination.
“Our own partners in Malawi have had their offices broken into and have been arrested for distributing HIV prevention materials,” Klindera said. “Similarly, such intimidation of colleagues in Zimbabwe does nothing to reduce the spread and impact of HIV. We’re only going to stop the AIDS epidemic once we realize that vulnerable populations such as MSM need to have access to HIV prevention, education, and treatment without fear of persecution.”
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than $307 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide.