Malawian couple face 14-year jail sentence

Arrest of a same-sex couple in the African state spotlights endemic persecution

As the gay rights cause makes headway in Latin America, with same-sex marriage becoming legal in Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, a story from Africa has illustrated that this is not the case across the globe.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 29, and Steven Monjeza, 26, were arrested at their home in Malawi two days after they were married in a symbolic ceremony last weekend. They were accused of "unnatural practices between males" and gross indecency, and will face up to 14 years in prison if found guilty. Today they were denied bail, amid reports of beatings in prison.

It has remained unclear why they chose to make such a public statement -- homosexuality is illegal in the Southern African state. But the case has shone a spotlight on the terrible social and state persecution that gay people face in Africa.

Sadly, it is not a unique story. In Senegal last year, 25 men were arrested at a party and charged with committing indecent acts. In Uganda in 2008, several gay rights activists were arrested. There are countless more stories that do not cause sufficient international outcry to reach our ears.

But while other continents take steps towards acknowledging the human rights of homosexuals, there is a worrying tide of increasingly conservative legislation actually growing across Africa. Gay sex is illegal in 37 African countries, with Burundi the latest addition, criminalising it in 2009. Uganda's parliament is debating legislation that would introduce the death penalty for homosexuality, a policy already in place in Sudan and some northern states of Nigeria.

South Africa is the only country on the continent that legally protects gay rights.

Pearson Mtata, professor of sociology at the University of Malawi, discussed the case of Chimbalanga and Monjeza on national radio, saying:

This has given us a wake-up call but also a new chapter in terms of how we deepen the discussion or the debate on the gay citizens in Malawi.

This seems optimistic, given that the magistrate said he was denying the men bail for their own protection: "The public out there is angry with them." Reports described a hostile crowd outside the court, taunting the couple.

But a glimmer of hope is the burgeoning gay rights movement, gathering force across Africa -- a handful of activists were there outside the court, too. Let's hope they have the strength to keep up the fight.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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