Britain will review its aid to Malawi if the Government refuses to free two gay men who were sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour this week.
Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, came under pressure yesterday to begin withdrawing £19 million of British “budget support” for the Commonwealth country’s Government.
The case of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza — who were sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour on Thursday for getting engaged in a traditional ceremony in December — has created an international outcry, with celebrities including Madonna joining calls for their release.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, was asked to increase diplomatic pressure after Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister, described their jailing as “both shocking and disturbing”.
Writing on the pinknews website he said: “We, along with our international partners, will make urgent representations to the Government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure that it meets its commitments to human rights.” But he added that Britain “must be wary of calls to use aid money as a political weapon”.
Mr Duncan, one of the most prominent gay members of the Government, joined 67 MPs in signing a Commons motion this year calling on President Bingu wa Mutharika to free the men.
The Department for International Development (DfID) is understood to be considering reducing the proportion of aid paid directly to Malawi while maintaining the overall amount of £80 million donated to the country each year. Up to to 40 percent of Malawi’s budget comes from foreign donors.
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner who supported the Malawi democracy movement in the 1970s and 1980s, said that Mr Hague should ask President Mutharika to pardon Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza.
A review of British government aid to Malawi will take place later this year. A DFID spokeswoman said last night: “Respect for human rights underpins our relationship with Malawi and will be taken into account in future aid decisions.”