Human rights advocates have called for a same-sex couple in Malawi to be recognised as prisoners of conscience after they were arrested for holding a traditional engagement ceremony.
Amnesty International has been urged formally to regard Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as "prisoners of conscience” as part of the campaign for their release.
Monjeza and Chimbalanga are in Chichiri prison in Malawi on charges of homosexuality, with a verdict expected on 22 March. They celebrated their relationship in a public ceremony last December.
The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has written to the Director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, on behalf of the organisation Outrage!
"We urge Amnesty International to adopt Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga as prisoners of conscience,” said Tatchell.
He emphasised that, “Everyone is very appreciative of the statement that Amnesty has already issued, which deplores the men's arrest and calls for their release".
But he added, “We are now hoping that Amnesty will go one step further and recognise them as prisoners of conscience".
Monjeza and Chimbalanga have asked people concerned for human freedom to increase Malawian and international pressure to secure the dropping of all charges and their immediate release.
“Adoption by Amnesty as prisoners of conscience would be a great morale boost for Tiwonge and Steven,” wrote Tatchell, “It might also help encourage a less harsh sentence if they are found guilty”.
The couple face a maximum sentence of fourteen years imprisonment if convicted.
The situation is complicated because Monjeza and Chimbalanga were arrested for a ceremony, rather than for sexual activity as such, making the situation more legally complex.
The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, to which Malawi is a signatory, states that, “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person".