In response to the sentencing in Malawi of two gay men to 14 years imprisonment, Elton joined an international chorus in requesting their freedom, writing an open letter to President Mutharika of Malawi in The Guardian on 29th May. The letter has also been quoted by major worldwide news outlets including the New York Times and BBC News, and has added to the international community’s pressure on this issue.
Thankfully the voices of concerned people from all over the world have been heard. On 30th May Dr Mutharika announced a pardon for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga and ordered their release. The content of Elton's letter is below or can be viewed on the Guardian's website here:
AN OPEN LETTER FROM SIR ELTON JOHN TO PRESIDENT MUTHARIKA
Dear President Mutharika,
You and I have never met, but we have long been partners, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and hand-in-hand with the people of Malawi. I am writing as a friend.
Mr. President, I have admired your efforts to bring health services and development to your people, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation has proudly worked with the Government of Malawi to these ends since 1998. We have made much progress together.
That is why I am most alarmed and deeply upset by the persecution of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steve Monjeza on the grounds of their sexual orientation. Their trial and harsh sentencing - a clear viiolation of human rights – will have a perilous effect on our continuing efforts to combat AIDS in Malawi and potentially reverse the gains we have achieved.
HIV/AIDS is a disease that does not discriminate in choosing its victims. Neither should we discriminate in providing treatment. Access to life saving medication and services must not be witheld on the grounds of ethnicity, sexuality or gender. This has been a fundamental tenet of our work together, to help all and turn away none. Indeed, the Government of Malawi’s stratgic HIV/AIDS plans calls for the provision of universal access to treatment, including for homosexuals.
This official policy of nondiscrimination has been critical to our efforts. In 2006, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Health District of Thyolo, with co-funding from the Elton John AIDS Foundation and others, made life saving antiretroviral medicine available to all HIV-positive Malawians for the first time. This programmes was one of the first sucessful, state-run, district wide treatment efforts in Africa.
Discrimination, on the other hand, costs lives. Explicitly excluding or stigmatizing a particular subgroup serves only to drive that population into the shadows, thus perpetuating and complicating – rather than amerliorating – the AIDS epidemic. In this way, the persecution of Mr. Chimbalanga and Mr. Monjeza will undoubtedly increase stigma, frustrate our efforts, and lead to unnecessary and tragic deaths.
Mr. President, nearly 12 percent of the population of Malawi is HIV-positive, and more than 70,000 Malawians die from AIDS each year. This is a travesty that must be overcome not only with increased resources, not only with increased commitment, but also with increased compassion. Compassion is the only known method of containing and reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Malawians are no strangers to compassion. Your country is famously the « warm heart of Africa ». Indeed, I have experienced the power of this compassion first hand. In collaboration with your government and many dedicated Malawians, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has provided 6,000 orphans and vulnerable children in Salima with a comprehensive package of education, social care, health care, and livelihood services. Our partnership utilized the existing Malawian social support systems to serve these at-risk youth. We could not do this without the many warm hearts and caring souls in Malawi.
In this spirit, I urge you to embrace the kind and benevolent character of the Malawian people. I hope you will take immediate steps to free Mr. Chimbalanga and Mr. Monjeza, and expunge Malawi’s discriminatory laws against homosexuality that led to their unjust imprisonment.
As an economist, you understand, far better than I do, the many ways in which nations are today tied together by commerce, by global health concerns, and by our aspirations for humanity. Indeed, that is why my Foundation has so heavily invested in helping Malawi build the health systems it desperately needs to control and reverse your nation’s AIDS epidemic.
Compassion has motivated the many NGOs that have helped to save lives in Malawi. Compassion has motivated the global outcry against the persecution of Mr. Chimbalanga and Mr. Monjeza. Compassion has motivated me, an openly gay man, to write this letter.
The global community has demonstrated great compassion for the people of Malawi. I hope you will find such compassion for one another.