International development minister Alan Duncan has warned against cutting aid money to Malawi but says the government will make “urgent representations” to the county over the 14-year jail term handed to two gay men.
Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Mr Duncan, who was the first Tory MP to come out, said the conviction of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza was “shocking and disturbing” and violated Malawi’s own laws on human rights.
The couple were jailed for 14 years with hard labour today, almost five months after they were arrested for holding a traditional wedding ceremony.
Mr Duncan said using aid money as a “political weapon” would only create more victims in one of the poorest countries in the world.
He wrote: “Around 40 per cent of [Malawi’s] people live on less than 34 pence a day. They face a challenge just to survive and we have a moral obligation to help them in their daily battle against hunger, disease and despair.
“Our aid programme is worth almost £80 million this year and it is aimed directly at helping those most in need.
“We cannot make them victims along with Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza.”
Instead, he said, the British government and its international partners would make “urgent representations” to the Malawian government to review its laws on homosexuality.
Exact details of the contact between Britain and Malawi have not been released, but it is understood that the British ambassador to the country and the Department for International Development head of office in Malawi have spoken to Malawian officials today.
The nature of such talks is likely to be discreet and informal, due to the political sensitivity around colonialism.
But Malawi is expected to come under international pressure for the sentence and PinkNews.co.uk understands it will be raised in future budget support discussions.
Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga pleaded not guilty to offences of unnatural acts and gross indecency but were convicted earlier this week.
After being arrested in December, their case received worldwide media attention. Today, they were handed the maximum sentence for gay sex – 14 years with hard labour. In sentencing, they would told the harsh punishment would act as a deterrent to others.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has been raising awareness of their plight, described the 14-year sentence as “brutal”, while Amnesty International called it “an outrage”.
The men’s lawyers confirmed they would appeal the sentence.