Gay Malawi News & Reports 2010 May-Dec

1 Malawi Law Body Calls Fof Immediate Release Of Gay Couple 5/10

2 Malawi ‘gay trial’ prisoners speak out 5/10

3 Malawi gay couple found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency 5/10

4 IGLHRC and CEDEP condemn today’s conviction 5/10

5 Government ministers ‘deeply dismayed’ by Malawi gay conviction 5/10

6 Malawi gay couple get maximum sentence of 14 years 5/10

7 IGLHRC and CEDEP Outraged 5/10

8 Malawi warned over gay sentencing 5/10

9 Madonna Condemns Malawi Gay Conviction 5/10

10 Is the Malawi Couple Gay? 5/10

11 Malawi’s president: pardon and release gay couple 5/10

12 Malawian Gay Couple Pardon Draws Praise, Concern 5/10

13 Pardoned Malawi gay couple thank ‘caring and tolerant’ president 6/10

14 Malawi couple speak about love split 6/10

15 One half of Malawian couple is seeking asylum in Canada 10/10

16 Vice President Calls For Better Understanding Of Homosexuality 10/10

17 The World’s New Gay Rights Battlegrounds 10/10

18 Queer Malawi: Untold Stories 11/10

May 12, 2010 – Behind The Mask

Malawi Law Body Calls Fof Immediate Release Of Gay Couple

Malawi – The Malawi Law Society (MLS), a constitutionally-recognised body that represents the interests of lawyers and the legal profession in Malawi, has called for the immediate release on bail of Malawi’s incarcerated first openly gay couple, saying the society does not pose a danger to them and vice versa. In a statement published in the local media, MLS Secretary Jabber Alide was quoted as saying the two – like all accused persons in Malawi – should be presumed innocent until proved otherwise by the court of law. “We feel that the reasons for being denied bail were not meritable,” he said.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and his 20-year-old partner, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were arrested on 27 December after their Christmas Box public engagement ceremony ahead of their planned wedding in the new year. They have since been charged with puggery or unnatural acts among males and gross indecency, both felonies that can see them jailed for up to 14 years on conviction. They both deny the charges but both the Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrates Court and the High Court denied them bail for what the two courts said was for “their own safety”.

But Alide wondered what could happen if the two are eventually acquitted. “Are they going to go back to their respective homes?” he wondered. The arrest of the couple re-ignited a fervent debate about homosexuality in this highly-conservative homophobic society. Malawi laws criminalise same-sex liaisons and religious leaders equate homosexual acts to Satanism. But gradually more and more people are coming out to profess their homosexuality. A research by Centre for the Development of people (CEDEP), a civil society group that looks after the interests of minority groups, including gays, lesbians and prostitutes, indicates wide-spread homosexual acts in Malawi, especially in prisons.

CEDEP’s Executive Director Gift Trapence said it was high time the rights of homosexuals were recognised so that they are integrated in the fight against HIV/AIDS, saying HIV prevalence rates among homosexuals are way above the national 14 per cent. Western donor countries and agencies, who bankroll up to 40 per cent of Malawi’s development budget, have also joined the fray, saying donors may be forced to review their aid packages to Malawi if minority groups like homosexuals continue to be discriminated against, persecuted or marginalised. But Malawian authorities, backed by religious leaders, remain steadfast on the issue with President Bingu wa Mutharika openly expressing his disquiet on the issue, calling it “unMalawian”. Meanwhile, Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa is set to deliver his much-anticipated ruling on the issue on 18 May.

17 May 2010 – Peter Tatchell

Malawi ‘gay trial’ prisoners speak out

On the eve of the court verdict, two men on trial on charges of homosexuality in Malawi, Steven Monjeza (26) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20), have issued a defiant message from their prison cell, affirming their love for each other and thanking their supporters in Malawi and worldwide. Tiwonge said: "I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless."

"We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will not and never stop loving Tiwonge," said Steven. The two men’s messages were relayed from inside Chichiri Prison in Blantyre, Malawi, to Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights group OutRage! in London, England.

Tiwonge and Steven have stressed their gratitude for the support they have received from fellow Malawians and from people around the world: "We are thankful for the people who have rallied behind us during this difficult time. We are grateful to the people who visit and support us, which really makes us feel to be members of a human family; otherwise we would feel condemned," said Tiwonge.

Steven added: "All the support is well appreciated. We are grateful to everybody who is doing this for us. May people please continue the commendable job….it makes such a huge difference between life and death, as prison life is very difficult. With the small money sent us we are able to buy some extra food to supplement our intake of the much needed vitamins and proteins."

May 18, 2010 – PinkNews

Malawi gay couple found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency

by Jessica Geen
The gay Malawian couple arrested in December have been found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency. Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa issued the verdict today, Associated Press reports. Stephen Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were arrested after holding a traditional wedding ceremony.
They have been in custody since their arrest on December 27th and denied the charges against them.

Under Malawi’s laws, they could face up to 14 years in jail. The pair are expected to be sentenced on Thursday. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has been championing their case, argued that the prosecution had not proved they broke the law.

He told PinkNews: "This is an appalling verdict. There is no evidence to justify it. Steven and Tiwonge freely confirmed their love for each other but the prosecution presented no credible evidence that they had committed any sexual acts. The law under which they were convicted is a law that only applies to same-sex relationships. It violates article 20 of the Malawi constitution, which guarantees equality and non-discrimination."

Lawyers for Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga attempted to have the case thrown out by arguing the trial violated constitutional laws but were unsuccessful.

May 18, 2010 – The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)

IGLHRC and CEDEP condemn today’s conviction

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Malawian organization the Center for the Development of People (CEDEP) condemn today’s conviction by a Magistrate Court in Blantyre, Malawi of Tiwonge ("Tionge") Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza for "unnatural offences" and "indecent practices between males" under Sections 153 and 156 of the Malawi Penal Code. The Court is expected to sentence the two on May 20th and issue the full judgment within three weeks. Chimbalanga and Monjeza face up to fourteen years in prison with the possibility of hard labour.

"By ignoring basic standards of evidence, this ruling undermines Malawi’s commitment to the rule of law and jeopardizes the human rights of all Malawians," said Chivuli Ukwimi, Health and Human Rights Officer of IGLHRC. "In a context of escalating persecution of LGBT Malawians, this decision damages life-saving efforts to address HIV and AIDS."

Monjeza and Chimbalanga have been held in Chichiri Prison in Blantyre since December 28, 2009, when they were arrested after a traditional engagement ceremony attended by family and friends. Following their arrest, Chimbalanga was forced to undergo an involuntary anal examination and both were forced to undergo an involuntary psychiatric evaluation. The two were repeatedly denied bail – a decision severely criticized as unjust by the Malawi Law Society. There have been reports of the Court allowing the couple to be subjected to humiliating treatment during the trial, including being mocked for their relationship by trial attendees and being forced to clean up vomit after one of them became ill.

Today’s ruling is part of a broader pattern of mounting pressure and persecution on LGBT people by authorities in Malawi. This persecution has come from the highest levels of government. On April 23rd, President Bingu wa Mutharika reportedly denounced homosexuality as "un-Malawian," "evil" and "disgusting" and linked it to corruption, violence, theft and prostitution. Days later, on April 26th and again on the 27th, police appeared at a conference on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations in HIV/AIDS programming. Police demanded the names of conference organizers, seized copies of the conference program, and inquired about specific individuals believed to be in attendance. Police refused to present a warrant or justification for the intimidation.

Speaking after today’s decision, Dunker Kamba, Adminstrator of CEDEP, said, "This judgment is going to drive the gay community further into hiding. It is not only a ruling against Steven and Tionge but the whole LGBT community in Malawi and Africa."

These incidents violate the Constitution of Malawi and the human rights treaties to which Malawi is a party. The continued discrimination and persecution of people on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity threatens to undermine the right to privacy, the right to non-discrimination and equality before the law, and freedoms of assembly, association, opinion, and expression that all Malawians are entitled to enjoy.

Additional Contact Information:

Gift Trapence, Director, CEDEP Blantyre
Mobile: (265) 888 50972; Email

Cary Alan Johnson, Executive Director, IGLHRC (currently in Berlin)
Mobile: (347) 515 0330; Email

Jessica Stern, Director of Programs, IGLHRC New York
1- 212- 430-6014; Email

Chivuli Ukwimi, Health and Human Rights Officer, IGLHRC Cape Town
Office: (27) 21 469 3700; Mobile: (27) 79 443 3938; Email

Dunker Kama, Administrator, CEDEP Blantyre
Mobile: (265) 8888 7 5050; Email

May 20, 2010 – PinkNews

Government ministers ‘deeply dismayed’ by Malawi gay conviction

by Staff Writer,
Three government ministers have said the UK will "continue to press" the African country of Malawi on LGBT rights after it sentenced a couple to 14 years in jail for being gay. The couple, Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were told by a judge today they would also serve hard labour as a warning to other gay people after being convicted of having anal sex. A joint statement from junior Foreign Office ministers Henry Bellingham and Stephen O’Brien and junior equality minister Lynne Featherstone said they were "deeply dismayed" by the convictions and by reports the pair had suffered mistreatment in police custody.

It said: "Malawi has made significant progress on human rights in recent years. The government has signed up to international human rights treaties and Malawi’s constitution protects the rights of all its citizens. Infringement of these rights is intolerable. The conviction and sentencing to the maximum 14 years’ imprisonment of Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza, runs counter to a positive trend. Britain has a close and strong partnership with Malawi and it is in this spirit that we raise our concerns. The UK believes that human rights apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UK urges the government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure the defence of human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds. The UK, along with our international partners, will continue to press the government of Malawi on this issue."

Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga had denied the charges. They have been kept in an overcrowded jail since their arrest in December and were repeatedly refused bail. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has been raising awareness of their plight, described the 14-year sentence as "brutal". The couple were told by magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa that they were being given a "scaring sentence" to prevent people trying to emulate them.

Mr Tatchell said today: "This is an appalling, vindictive and brutal sentence, which tramples on Malawi’s constitution, violates personal privacy and reverses the country’s commitment to human rights. With so much hatred and violence in Malawi, it is sick that the court has jailed these two men for loving and caring for each other."

Undule Mwakasungura, director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in South Africa told the South Africa Press Association: “This conviction and sentence raises serious concerns regarding the human rights of all individuals in Malawi … protecting human rights is not a western issue, it is a Malawian issue.” The couple’s lawyers have said they will appeal the sentence. They previously argued for a non-custodial punishment, auguring that no one had been harmed by the couple’s actions.

20 May 2010 – BBC News

Malawi gay couple get maximum sentence of 14 years

Tiwonge Chimbalanga, right, and Steven Monjeza are led from court in Blantyre on 20 May 2010 The pair were arrested after holding an engagement ceremony last December A judge in Malawi has imposed a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labour on a gay couple convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts. The judge said he wanted to protect the public from "people like you".

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, have been in jail since they were arrested in December after holding an engagement ceremony. The case has sparked international condemnation and a debate about homosexuality in the country. The British government, Malawi’s largest donor, expressed its "dismay" at the sentences, but has not withdrawn aid.

‘Horrendous example’
The US state department, meanwhile, said the case was "a step backwards in the protection of human rights in Malawi". Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa described the actions by Malawi’s first openly gay couple as an affront on Malawi’s moral code. The courtroom was packed and hundreds more people stood outside, peering through windows.
The case has ignited debate over homosexuality in Malawi, a conservative country where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism.

But the impoverished southern African nation has come under pressure from Western donor nations and agencies. They have cautioned Malawi to tread carefully over rights of minority groups, such as homosexuals, or risk being black-listed on governance issues, which may have aid implications. Some 40% of the development budget in Malawi is from donors. But despite the outcry, the authorities won’t budge. President Bingu wa Mutharika dismisses homosexuality as alien.

Handing down sentence in the commercial capital, Blantyre, Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa told the pair: "I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example." The judge said the pair – whom he convicted on Tuesday – had shown no remorse. "We are sitting here to represent the Malawi society, which I do not believe is ready at this point in time to see its sons getting married to other sons or conducting engagement ceremonies," said the judge.

The BBC’s Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre says Monjeza, who is unemployed, broke down in tears while Chimbalanga remained calm. "I am not worried," Chimbalanga, a hotel janitor, told reporters as he was led away. Defence lawyer Mauya Msuku told the BBC that they would appeal. The courtroom was packed, and hundreds of people gathered outside the building. Some shouted abuse as the couple were taken back to jail. There were shouts of "You got what you deserve!" and "Fourteen years is not enough, they should get 50!"

Mr Msuku had argued for a lighter sentence, pointing out that the pair’s actions had not victimised anyone. "Here are two consenting adults doing their thing in private. Nobody will be threatened or offended if they are released into society," he said on Tuesday.

‘Prisoners of conscience’
Gift Trapence, from the Centre for Development of People (Cedep), a human rights group, described it as a sad day for Malawi.
"How can they get 14 years simply for loving one another?" he asked. "Even if they are jailed for 20 years you can’t change their sexuality. Michelle Kagari, deputy Africa director of Amnesty International, called the sentence "an outrage", reports the AP news agency. She described the pair as "prisoners of conscience" and said Amnesty would continue to campaign for them to be freed.

UK gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell pointed out that the laws under which the pair were convicted were introduced during British colonial rule. "These laws are a foreign imposition. They are not African," he said. He described the sentence as "brutal" and more severe than for rapists, armed robbers and killers.

The men had denied the charges and their lawyers said their constitutional rights had been violated. Cedep and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) have been urging Malawi’s authorities to relax the country’s stance on homosexuals. Our reporter says the government has come under pressure from Western donors over the issue.

May 20, 2010 – Chivuli Ukwimi, Health and Human Rights Officer, IGLHRC

IGLHRC and CEDEP Outraged

Dunker Kama, Administrator, CEDEP, Blantyre, Malawi

Capetown, South Africa
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Malawi Center for the Development of People (CEDEP) are outraged by the sentence of 14 years with hard labour imposed today by a Malawian court on Tiwonge ("Tionge") Chimbalanga (20) and Steven Monjeza (26). The Magistrate’s Court in Blantyre imposed the maximum sentence following the conviction of the two on May 18 for "unnatural offences" and "indecent practices between males" under Sections 153 and 156 of the Malawi Penal Code.

"This harsh sentence compounds the impact of an already unjust conviction," said Chivuli Ukwimi, IGLHRC Health and Human Rights Officer. "Its devastating effect on Steven and Tionge is just the beginning. It will endanger lives by driving at-risk communities underground, beyond the reach of programs to address HIV and AIDS."

In his ruling, Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa stated, "The engagement and the living together as husband and wife of the two accused persons, who are both males, transgresses the Malawian recognized standards of propriety since it does not recognize the living of a man with another as husband and wife. Both these acts were acts of gross indecency." These views were similar to those expressed by the State Prosecutor, Barbara Mchenga, who asked the court to "consider the scar this offence will leave on our morality."

Dunker Kama, Administrator of CEDEP, responded by stating, "There is nothing immoral or indecent about love. The only thing immoral or indecent is throwing innocent people in jail for more than a decade." The harsh sentence sends a negative message to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Malawians who already face discrimination and persecution. It is also likely to have an adverse effect on much needed efforts to address HIV and AIDS.

"The government of Malawi has double standards," said Gift Trapence, CEDEP Director. "Its own national strategic framework on HIV/AIDS includes men who have sex with men. Now, it is imprisoning them." This case and the criminalization of homosexuality in the Malawi Penal code amount to a violation of the human rights and protections to which Malawi is ostensibly committed through its own constitution and the regional and international human rights treaties to which it is party.

IGLHRC and CEDEP will continue to support Monjeza and Chimbalanga, including an appeal of this verdict and the repeal of all laws that unjustly discriminate against LGBT Malawians.

May 22, 2010 – The National Post

Malawi warned over gay sentencing

Britain has warned Malawi it risks losing a substantial chunk of government aid if it refuses to set aside the 14-year prison terms handed to two gay men, The Times of London reported yesterday. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were jailed for going through a commitment ceremony. Homosexuality is illegal in the former British colony under a law dated from colonial times. Alan Duncan, the International Development Minister, described their jailing as "both shocking and disturbing." In Geneva, Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, slammed the sentences as "blatantly discriminatory" and said they set an alarming precedent for the treatment of homosexuals in the region.

22 May 2010 – Daily Contributor

Madonna Condemns Malawi Gay Conviction

by Joannes
One of Malawi’s ardent supporters has been “shocked and saddened” by a Malawian court’s decision to sentence a gay couple to 14 years in jail, where they will be subject to hard labor. Madonna, who has adopted two children from the African nation, said Malawi’s sentencing of “two innocent men to prison” was shocking. “As a matter of principle, I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race, color, religion, or sexual orientation,” Madonna said in a statement to Access Hollywood.

The sentencing has earned condemnation from big donor countries like the United States and United Kingdom, which is Malawi’s largest donor. The U.S., through Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, said Washington “strongly condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing.” The British government also expressed “dismay” over the sentencing, but said that it would continue delivering aid to the African nation.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were jailed in December after they held an engagement ceremony. They were sentenced last week on charges of gross indecency and unnatural acts. Homosexuality is prohibited in Malawi.

May 27, 2010 – The Huffington Post

Is the Malawi Couple Gay?

by Alex Blaze, Managing Editor, The Bilerico Project
By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the Malawi couple that was recently sentenced to 14 years hard labor because they publicly proposed to one another back in December. Personally, I haven’t written about it since I know next to nothing about Malawi, but now coverage of the story has become a story in and of itself.
Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza are usually referred, in both the mainstream and LGBT media, as the "Malawi gay couple." That assumes that both Tiwonge and Steven are men, and that they see themselves as men in a relationship. But it’s been fairly clear since the beginning that Tiwonge identifies as a woman:

Mr Chimbalanga, however, remained defiant. Dressed in a blouse and describing himself as a woman, he said that they became engaged after "my darling, Steven, proposed love to me and we agreed to get married". Unlike Mr Monjeza, he refused to accept that he had broken any law. "Which laws? I am a woman, I can do what a woman can do," he said. "I love Steven for what he is, he doesn’t give me money. In fact, I do everything for him, but love is love." But prison is prison. "They beat us up here," said Mr Chimbalanga. "Why? Why beating us? We have done no wrong. If they say we have broken laws, why not let the courts judge us?"

Reluctant to accept that his relationship was over, he said: "Well, he is the one who proposed to me. I still love him though. Love is between two people, the third one is a spoiler. The police is the spoiler here."

And is accepted as a woman:
Jean Kamphale, Mr. Chimbalanga’s boss at a Blantyre lodge, testified that she accepted "Auntie Tiwo" as a woman and assigned her cooking and cleaning chores. But after the article in The Nation appeared, she made her employee disrobe and refused to let him stop until he was naked from the waist down and "that’s where the cat was let out of the bag."
While Western concepts of "gay," "bisexual," and "transgender" don’t fit neatly into other cultures, if we’re looking for the nearest label to apply to Tiwonge, "transgender" is the one, even though Tiwonge herself just identifies as a woman.

Now, none of this should matter. Whether their relationship was one between two men or one between a cis (as in, someone whose gender identity conforms to his or her body at birth) man and a trans woman, the fact that a government should punish people for being in love (or having sex or being in a relationship or holding a marriage ceremony) remains the same. I’d go further and say that 14 years hard labor is too harsh a punishment for any crime. Hard labor as a punishment in prison is harder than what most of us would think of, lasting over 12 hours, with poor nutrition and water, and few breaks. The fact that malaria and other communicable diseases have swept through Steven and Tiwonge’s prison, as well as the fact that they’re asking for money to be sent to them so they can buy food, shows the inhumanity of where they’ve been placed. Fourteen years is effectively a death sentence.

Whether they were caught marrying or stealing, any two people should not be treated this way. Where their identities do matter is in the Western media, where straight/cis people have been known to erase trans identities mainly because the journalist in question doesn’t accept the idea of a person born with a male body being anything other than a man or a person born with a female body being anything other than a woman. And, as transgender blogger Autumn Sandeen pointed out, if this were interpreted as a trans story it likely wouldn’t have gotten as much attention as it has in the West:

The Malawian couple has been charged and sentenced in relationship to having a homosexual relationship. The LGBT legacy and new media has picked up on the 14-year sentence based on the couple’s relationship being declared homosexual by the judge who sentenced the couple. And let’s be honest with ourselves — I believe we can safely say that from past coverage by the LGBT press and LGBT blogosphere that this story would not have gained as much traction in LGBT media if this were considered a transgender or intersex story.

That’s probably true and I’ll agree that the story wouldn’t have gotten attention if it were seen as trans instead of gay, but I also doubt this story would have gotten much attention if it read like a much more common gay story. Instead of a couple that publicly engaged and referred to themselves as married, let’s imagine that two men in Malawi had cruised for sex in a park, were caught fucking as police walked in on them, and were sent to jail. Would Western media be reporting this? Would we be taking up their case? Doubtful – we barely even talk about people arrested for cruising in our own country.

Because that’s really what makes this story ring more as a trans story than as a gay story – the fact that they were attempting marriage at such a young age. I don’t know much about Malawi, but outside of the West there’s little talk of two men marrying one another in the same way a straight couple would. My first instinct says that this is a case of a man who proposed to someone who he saw as a woman and a woman who accepted a proposal from a man, but of course I don’t know this couple from Adam. In that sense, it’s hard to escape the fact that the West is imposing its own value system on this couple, and, more broadly, this country. We have particular hang ups and particular injustices that we’re more fine with than others, and a story about a brave, young couple wanting to get married is more likely to pull at our heartstrings than two dudes caught with their pants down in a park.

Moreover, the number of times that it’s been repeated that this couple is "innocent" (i.e., they didn’t do anything that would be considered illegal in a civilized, Western nation, like cruising or drug smuggling or stealing) shows that our solidarity is based partly on an attempt to export our own system of justice than it is to stand up against needless human suffering. I’m not saying that our own system of justice is superior or inferior, but we should at least recognize that our level of care depends on how innocent we see the victims here and that both our need to find victims and how we define victimhood are specific to our own culture. We’re not asking Malawi to treat all prisoners better but to adopt our own idea of what is and is not a crime and to treat anyone who is a criminal however they want (another American concept: if they’re guilty of something, it’s their own fault, so to hell with them).

I don’t want people to care less about Tiwonge and Steven; on the contrary, we should start caring more about all the people who get put in prison and how they’re treated there and reconsider whether they should be there or not. There are a whole lot of reasons – not just their identity as gay or trans or straight or bi – that this story caught the West’s attention, and they’re all worth examining.

May 29, 2010 – AP

Malawi’s president: pardon and release gay couple

by Raphael Tenthani
Blantyre, Malawi — Malawi’s president on Saturday pardoned and ordered the release of a gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison, but said that homosexuality remains illegal in this conservative southern African nation. Activists were searching for a safe house for the couple, fearing they could be attacked upon release. Malawi has faced international condemnation for the conviction and harsh sentencing of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. President Bingu wa Mutharika announced the pardon, saying it was on "humanitarian grounds only," during a press conference with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Lilongwe, the capital.

Earlier in the week, the top U.N. AIDS official and the head of an international donor organization met Mutharika in Malawi and expressed concern that criminalizing homosexuality would keep a vulnerable group from seeking HIV/AIDS counseling and treatment. Joseph Amon of Human Rights Watch said the president was no doubt responding to the international outcry over the case. "I hope that other leaders of African countries with anti-gay laws see that this is just not acceptable in the international community," Amon told The Associated Press by telephone from New York.

Malawi is among 37 African countries with anti-gay laws. In Senegal police have rounded up men suspected of being homosexual and beaten them, and a mob last year pulled the corpse of a gay man from his grave, spat on it and dumped it at the home of his elderly parents. In Zimbabwe this month, two employees of a gay organization spent six days in jail on allegations of possessing indecent material and displaying a placard seen as insulting to President Robert Mugabe, an outspoken critic of homosexuality. In Uganda, a proposed law would impose the death penalty for some gays.

Even in South Africa, the only country that recognizes gay rights, lesbians have been gang-raped. In Malawi, a judge convicted and sentenced Chimbalanga and Monjeza earlier this month on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency, both colonial-era laws. They were arrested in December, a day after they celebrated their engagement. Crowds of Malawians had heckled the two during court hearings, with some saying after they were sentenced to 14 years at hard labor — the harshest possible sentence — that they should be imprisoned longer.

Undule Mwakasungure, a gay rights activist in Malawi, told The AP Saturday he was concerned about the couple’s safety, and working with other activists to find a safe house for them and possible arrange for them to leave the country at least temporarily. "There is homophobic sentiment. I think they might be harmed," Mwakasungure said. Edi Phiri, who fled Malawi for Britain five years ago after being beaten because he was gay, said the two might need to seek asylum outside of Malawi. "They will be out of prison, but what will happen next?" Phiri said. "The community will see them as outcasts. I don’t think they will be safe in Malawi."

A cousin of Chimbalanga, Maxwell Manda, told The AP earlier in the week that Chimbalanga wanted to leave Malawi upon his release. Mwakasungure and Phiri said the pardon was welcome and could fuel campaigns to overturn Malawi’s anti-gay legislation and try to change attitudes. "The public needs to appreciate that the world is changing," Mwakasungure said. "It won’t be easy. But I think that as time goes, people will start to appreciate. We’re not talking about changing the law today or tomorrow. But we have to start the process."

Mutharika’s comments Saturday underlined the challenge activists face. "These boys committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws," Mutharika said. "However, as head of state, I hereby pardon them and therefore order their immediate release without any conditions." But he added, "We don’t condone marriages of this nature. It’s unheard of in Malawi and it’s illegal."

Ban praised Mutharika’s decision but said, "It is unfortunate that laws criminalize people based on sexuality. Laws that criminalize sexuality should be repealed." While the order was immediate, a prison spokesman told The AP they had not received notification to release the two men by Saturday afternoon. Mwakasungure, the activist, said he hoped the release would be delayed until Monday or Tuesday, to give him time to prepare a safe house.

Associated Press writer Donna Bryson contributed to this report from Johannesburg.

30 May 2010 – VOANews

Malawian Gay Couple Pardon Draws Praise, Concern

by Howard Lesser
Tiwonge Chimbalanga, right, and Steven Monjeza, left back, are led from court in Blantyre, Malawi, Thursday May 20, 2010 after a judge sentenced the couple to the maximum 14 years in prison for unnatural acts and gross indecency under Malawi’s anti-gay legislation. Nine days later,the harsh sentence was overturned on Saturday with a pardon from Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika that has won praise from the international community.

Malawian President Bingu Wa Mutharika’s weekend pardon of a homosexual couple recently convicted for holding a public betrothal ceremony has drawn praise from U.S. President Barack Obama, and from Britain and a Malawian gay rights group. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who was visiting Malawi at the time of the reprieve, called Sunday’s release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga from prison a courageous decision. Journalist Watipaso Mzungu of the Malawi Daily Times newspaper said Malawians’ reactions have been mixed. And, he said President Mutharika’s decision continues to raise a lingering question in a country that imposes stiff bans on homosexual behavior.

“Although they are not against the presidential pardon because he has just exercised his presidential powers, he (President Mutharika) has to answer a few lingering questions. If he is not bound to the international pressure, why is he only pardoning these two, because there are other gay people who were arrested here in Malawi. Why is he only releasing these two men?” asked Mzungu.

Freed Coupe

Two weeks ago, a Malawian judge convicted Monjeza and Chimbalanga of unnatural acts and sentenced them to 14 years in prison. The sentence has drawn criticism from governments and human rights groups. It has also sparked debate about activities by other African governments that are attempting to toughen penalties against homosexuality, which is illegal in 38 of Africa’s 53 states. The Blantyre-based journalist noted that traditional religious group opposition to the legalization of homosexual unions remains very strong in Malawi, a predominantly (80%) Christian country. He said there are signs that President Mutharika, while signaling that he is not overturning state law, is clearly acceding to demands of the international community.

“The president has pardoned these two guys, mainly due to pressure from the international community. The opposition, too, cannot risk the wrath of their voters, especially considering that the donor community is providing Malawi with funds for the purchasing of subsidized fertilizer. Therefore, the opposition will put this behind them and concentrate on other matters of national interest,” said Mzungu. Despite the international attention, he said Mr. Mutharika’s own political fate is not being threatened and that his critics will try to reach a common understanding for the benefit of the country’s development needs until the next election cycle in 2014.

“I don’t think the political future of Mutharika is in jeopardy. The president is serving his last term. It is the next presidential candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party that may suffer the wrath of the people. But, I doubt if people can connect it to politics,” he said. After speaking with Undule Mwakasungura, the director of Malawi’s Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Watipazo Mzungu, said he is not sure about legal and living conditions for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. However, the Daily Times journalist said the country’s Minister of Gender and Child Welfare has told state media in Malawi that, “if the two guys go home and begin staying together, they are going to be rearrested.”

Mzungu said it is his clear understanding that President Mutharika is not trying to overturn the law, but is simply trying to find a way out of Malawi’s current clash with international human rights advocates, while signaling that violators of the current laws still face punishment. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza are taken into custody after celebrating their engagement, December 2009.

“The president did emphasize that he did it (the pardon) on humanitarian grounds. Therefore, it is an expectation that the two guys will not get married again unless they want to face another jail term,” he noted. With charges dropped against them, Monjeza and Chimbalanga still have the option of leaving Malawi. But, Mzungu notes that the Malawi government cannot be expected to advise them about whether or not they should leave the country.

June 3, 2010 – PinkNews

Pardoned Malawi gay couple thank ‘caring and tolerant’ president

by Staff Writer,
The gay couple pardoned for homosexuality offences by Malawi’s president last week have thanked him for releasing them.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga said in a statement: "The president has demonstrated that he is a caring father, a considerate and tolerant president. We wish him good health in his everyday endeavours as he continues leading the country to respecting human rights and to economic prosperity."

The couple were sentenced to 14 years in jail with hard labour for breaking Malawi’s harsh laws on gay sex. After international outcry, president Bingu Wa Mutharika ordered that they be released last weekend. After a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he said: "These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws. "However, as the head of state I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions." But Mr Mutharki has warned that his pardon does not change Malawi’s laws and they may be arrested if they reoffend again.

AFP reports that he has also asked the public, which was in favour of the harsh sentence, to stop discussing the case. He said: "I don’t want to hear anyone commenting on them. Nobody is authorised to comment on the gays. You will spoil things."

In the statement, Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga added that five months since their arrest had been "the most stressful period in our lives." "So much has been said and written about us, both positive and negative. We think this is the time for us to be given an opportunity to enjoy our freedom," they said.

The couple are keeping a low profile. Mr Chimbalanga told AFP he had gone to rest in Lilongwe while Mr Monjeza returned home. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has been supporting them, said this week that they could seek asylum abroad. "We are now liaising with Steven and Tiwonge about whether they want to seek asylum abroad and will assist them, whatever they decide," he said.

June 9, 2010 – PinkNews

Malawi couple speak about love split

by Staff Writer,
The Malawi couple who were jailed and then pardoned for homosexuality offences have spoken about their split. Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were facing 14 years in jail until they were freed last month by the Malawian president. Yesterday, it was reported they had split up. The pair gave differing accounts of their relationship, while a gay rights campaigner claimed they had been forced apart by homophobia.

Although a local newspaper quoted Mr Monjeza as saying he had been coerced into the marriage ceremony they were arrested for, he told the Guardian he was "no longer in love" with Mr Chimbalanga and was planning a future with a 24-year-old woman called Dorothy. He said he no longer wanted anything to do with homosexuality. Mr Chimbalanga said he was "not disappointed" and would find another man to marry. "There are lots of good men around. I will remain a gay," he said.

Mr Chimbalanga added: "What you should know is that nobody forced him when we did our symbolic wedding in December." He also claimed Mr Monjeza had been pressured by his relatives to find a woman to marry. Mr Monjeza’s uncle, Khuliwa Dennis Monjeza, said he would ensure a reunion did not take place and claimed Mr Chimbalanga had been warned to stay away.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said he did not believe Mr Monjeza had fallen in love with another woman and compared the gay couple to " star-crossed lovers" Romeo and Juliet. "The couple had been subjected to many death threats and the government had threatened to re-arrest them if they got back together," he said. "I was in communication with Steven and Tiwonge for over four months, via prison visitors who I arranged to deliver them food, medicine, shoes and clothes. In messages passed to me by the prison visitors, the couple affirmed their love. I believe it was genuine affection and commitment."

"Whatever their feelings for each other now, Steven and Tiwonge have done more for gay and transgender rights in Malawi than anyone else," he added.

October 7, 2010 – PinkNews

One half of Malawian couple is seeking asylum in Canada

by Staff Writer,
Tiwonge Chimbalanga, one half of the Malawian couple sentenced to 14 years’ hard labour before being released in May, is seeking asylum in Canada.
According to the Pan African News Agency, Mr Chimbalanga’s asylum claim has been confirmed by an activist at Malawi’s Centre for the Development of People.

Mr Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were arrested back in December 2009 under Malawi’s sodomy and indecency laws, but were reluctantly pardoned by the country’s president in May this year. Following their release, the couple split, giving different accounts of their relationship to the press.

Mr Monjeza claimed he had been coerced into the symbolic engagement ceremony at which he and Mr Chimbalanga were arrested, and said he was renouncing his homosexuality.

Mr Chimbalanga denied that his former partner had been forced into the ceremony but said that he was not disappointed and would find another man to marry.

October 2010 – Behind The Mask

Vice President Calls For Better Understanding Of Homosexuality

Malawian Vice President Joyce Banda, has called for tolerance towards homosexuality, at a meeting hosted by the Inter-Faith AIDS Association (MIAA) held in Blantyre, Malawi, on 29 September this year. Banda made the call when she officially opened a Religious Leader’s Policy Advocacy Conference in Blantyre, stating that same sex practices are reality in Malawi and that religious leaders need be tolerant on such issues in order to fight HIV and AIDS. “I am of the opinion that MIAA is strategically positioned to bring faith leaders together to debate how to respond to HIV and AIDS, find ways of repositioning in order to tackle the issue of homosexuality without necessarily compromising the moral integrity of faith institutions”, said Banda.

Gift Trapence Director of Centre for the Development of People in Malawi commended Banda’s statement stating that it is an indication that government is willing to engage on issues of homosexuality. “This is indeed good news to the LGBT community. It sets an example for other countries to take precedent and allow Men having sex with Men (MSM) initiatives in their countries.”

Trapennce suspects that the positive statement was a result of the case of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga which rocked Malawi and attracted international attention and condemnation. “Personally I think it could be attributed to the international pressure but nonetheless it is definitely a step forward for the LGBT community”, he said.

Chimbalanga, 20, and 26-year-old Monjeza, were arrested in December last year after holding a public engagement ceremony in Blantyre, Malawi. A Blantyre magistrate convicted the two on buggery and gross indecency charges handing them a maximum 14 years jail sentence . With the intervention from various governments, and other international bodies, the couple was pardoned by President Bingu Wa Mutharika. Just 10 days after the pardon, Monjeza was rumored to be living with a new female partner, Dorothy Gulo, however Trapence could not confirm the rumor but stated “I think it had to do with all the attention the court case drew and also pressure but also it could be fear and the discrimination from the community.”

Meanwhile Tiwonge Chimbalanga is set to be leaving for Canada where he has found asylum, “Some people will host him for three years then after that he will find what to do. We have advised him not to mess this opportunity”, said Maxwell Manda, Chimbalanga’s cousin said through CEDEP. In Malawi homosexual acts are punishable, under section 153 “unnatural offences” and section 156 which deals with “public decency”. And tourists that commit homosexual acts can be prosecuted under article 156 and expelled as “undesirable aliens.”

March 9, 2010 – Foriegn Poilcy

The World’s New Gay Rights Battlegrounds

They’re here, they’re queer, and governments from Africa to Asia don’t quite know what to do about it. Four countries where gay rights movements face an upward battle for equality.

by Peter Williams
The struggle for gay rights in the United States has been going on now for decades, brought into the national consciousness by the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s and most recently crystallized by the battles over same-sex marriage and the "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy for gays in the military. In other parts of the world, however, the fight is in much earlier stages. Here are four countries where nascent gay- and transgender-rights movements are just picking up steam — and meeting some ugly backlash as well.

The battle: Uganda’s Parliament, not content with the colonial-era anti-gay legislation that already exists, is considering the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which seeks to punish "aggravated homosexuality" — essentially, sex if one of the participants is HIV-positive — with death, and other forms of gay sex with life imprisonment. Those who are aware of homosexual activity and fail to report it face up to three years in prison. The bill, which could be voted on as soon as this month, would also criminalize working for gay rights, with a possible sentence of up to seven years.

The outlook: After intense pressure from foreign governments and human rights NGOs, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has distanced himself from the bill, believing that passing it would potentially jeopardize foreign donors’ willingness to send aid to Uganda. But, though the bill has catalyzed action in Uganda and overseas (and focused attention on three American evangelicals who appear to bear some accidental responsibility for the bill’s genesis), anti-gay sentiment is still stubbornly entrenched there, and it will take a lot for that to change. Uganda is far more likely to remain one of the almost 40 African countries that still bans homosexuality altogether than it is to join South Africa, the only country on the continent to legalize gay marriage.

November 28, 2010 – African Activist

Queer Malawi: Untold Stories

Months after the imprisonment and subsequent release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) and the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) are publishing a groundbreaking book telling the stories of twelve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Malawi. The accounts in the book portray the joys of love and the heartache of rejection, the dangers posed by homophobia and hatred in communities, and the sublime comfort of close friends and relatives.

According to the publishers, the twelve life stories are "intended to invoke compassion and support for the rights of African LGBTI people to live freely and harmoniously alongside their heterosexual counterparts in Malawi and beyond her borders". The making of the book is fascinating in its own right: Dr Patricia Watson, an expert in oral history practice in South Africa, designed and facilitated oral history workshops in Malawi during which most of the 12 participants’ experiences were recounted, recorded and translated into English. Watson then worked with the transcripts to compose stories that were as close to the authors’ own words as was grammatically possible. Notably, their real names were not used in the book out of fear for their safety.

The inspiring experiences in Queer Malawi are complemented by striking and intimate photographs of the 12 participants by the renowned and award winning lesbian photographer Zanele Muholi who agreed to do portraits of each of the authors. “This book is to be applauded for making the homosexual voices of male and female Malawian nationals audible for all Africans to hear. It is through ordinary peoples’ stories that we are able to reconnect with our shared sense of humanity,” comments Fikile Vilakazi, the director of the Coalition for African Lesbians.

Zanele Muholi recently published Faces and Phases, a series of black and white portraits commemorating and celebrating the lives of black lesbians.