The verdict is expected today (22 March) in the trial of a same-sex couple in Malawi who were arrested after holding a traditional engagement ceremony. Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been charged with homosexuality and each faces up to 14 years in jail if convicted.
The couple were recently recognised as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.
Demonstrations are expected in various parts of the world today in support of the two men. In London, protestors will gather from 12.30pm at the Commonwealth Secretariat’s head office in Pall Mall, calling on the Commonwealth to condemn the persecution of gay people, and on Malawi to repeal its anti-homosexuality laws.
Black and African Christian campaigners will be amongst the protestors in London. They include The Rev Rowland Jide Macauley and Davis Mac-Iyalla, a gay Nigerian Anglican who fled to Britain to escape persecution.
"We want Steven and Tiwonge released, all charges against them dropped and the repeal of Malawi's anti-homosexuality laws,” said the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
He explained that the protest had been organised “in response to an appeal for help from the jailed men. From their prison cell in Malawi, Steven and Tiwonge have sent a message to me, urging more international pressure to secure their release.”
The trial of Monjeza and Chimbalanga has fuelled international calls for the Commonwealth to act against member governments which persecute gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
There has already been concern over the Commonwealth’s hesitancy in acting against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, which would introduce the death penalty for a repeat 'offence' of sexual relations between people of the same sex.
"The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, has failed to speak out loudly against the arrest and jailing of Steven and Tiwonge, even though equality and human rights are supposed to be key Commonwealth principles," said Tatchell.
Of the 53 Commonwealth member states, over 40 still criminalise same-sex relations. Many of these states make use of anti-gay laws imposed by British governments during colonial rule in the nineteenth century.