Malawi Churches Ask UK not to use Gay Rights as condition for Aid

The Malawi Council of Churches, a grouping of 24 protestant churches, has asked the UK to reconsider its demands for poor countries to embrace homosexuality as a condition to access aid.

The call was made in a statement released on Wednesday after the UK’s International development minister Andrew Mitchell said that his country has resorted to cut aid to African countries that are against gay marriages.

“The Council understands and believes that Malawi needs aid, and therefore asks that homosexuality should not be used as a benchmark to penalize and put to risk the lives of millions of innocent Malawians

We therefore call upon all donor partners to reconsider its demands for poor African countries, including Malawi, to embrace homosexuality as one of the tenets to accessing the much needed aid, and pray that development partners refrain from using aid to enforce negative lifestyles in poor countries,” statement reads in part.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years with hard labour.

Homosexuality has become a contentious issue in Many African countries after a Ugandan lawmaker last year proposed a bill including the death penalty for some acts, the arrest of the Malawian couple, and a police raid on a gay wedding in Kenya last year.

In 2009, Malawi police arrested a couple, Steven Monjeza, 27, and 21-year-old Tiwonge Chimbalanga, after they got engaged in a traditional ceremony two years ago. They were tried and found guilty in a trial viewed as a test case for gay rights in the southern African country.

Major donors to aid-dependent Malawi condemned what they called the abuse of human rights in the southern African nation, particularly a crackdown on gay rights, and warned that abuses could affect budget support.

“The United States strongly condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing,” Robert Gibbs, U.S. President Barack Obama’s then press secretary said in a statement that was released to the media.

“The criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity is unconscionable, and this case mars the human rights record of Malawi,” he said. “We urge Malawi and all countries to stop using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for arrest, detention, or execution.”

Rights group Amnesty International also called for the immediate and unconditional release of the couple, saying their human rights have been flagrantly violated.

Mounting pressure forced President Bingu wa Mutharika  to pardon the two hours after meeting visiting UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon .