Malawi does the right thing. Hopefully, for the right reasons.
The decision of President Mutharika of Malawi to pardon Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, convicted of gross indecency after celebrating their engagement in December, is a welcome step forward. Hopefully, it was, as he claimed, because he believed it was the right thing to do. That would be better than the other possible explanation, which was that he caved in to pressure from outside Malawi.
Not that I’m against such pressure – the TUC supported the picket outside the Malawian High Commission today, and we were glad to see the British Government make its position clear before and after the pardon (although it would have been better to respect Tiwonge’s transgender status more by not referring to her as “Mr”). But it would be nice to believe that this decision was a turn in the direction of human rights and equality in a world where LGBT communities face oppression, hostility and worse – from Iran to Jamaica, as well as in Africa.
And we can’t be too smug in Britain, either. Apart from the British Empire’s role in promoting the criminalisation of sexuality (it may not be solely down to the Empire, but it’s notable that homosexuality is much more likely to be illegal in a Commonwealth country than on average), this weekend’s revelations about the lengths David Laws went to to hide his sexuality should remind us all that Britain is only recently as tolerant as we now are (still not enough).