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Malawi gay trial verdict 'unjust and cruel'

Steven Monjeza & Tiwonge Chimbalanga found guilty of homosexuality; Convicted men hope that an appeal will overturn magistrate's decision


19 May, 2010

Protesters at the 22 March protest in London. Photo: Brett Lock
LONDON — "This is an outrageous verdict. While Steven and Tiwonge freely confirmed their love for each other, there was was no credible evidence that they had committed any illegal homosexual acts," said London-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell who has been supporting and advocating for the men since their arrest and detention in December last year.

He was commenting on the trial result yesterday of two men who were prosecuted in Malawi on charges of homosexuality, Steven Monjeza (26) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20).

"The law under which they were convicted is a discriminatory law that only applies to same-sex relations. It is unconstitutional. Article 20 of Malawi's constitution guarantees equality and non-discrimination. The law in Malawi is not supposed to discriminate," added Mr Tatchell.

"Malawi's anti-gay laws were not devised by Malawians. They were devised in London in the nineteenth century and imposed on the people of Malawi by the British colonisers and their army of occupation. Before the British came and conquered Malawi, there were no laws against homosexuality. These laws are a foreign imposition. They are not African laws.

"I expect both men will now appeal against the verdict and against any sentence that is handed down. Steven and Tiwonge's best hope is that a higher court will overturn this unjust, cruel verdict.

"With so much hatred and violence in the world, it is bizarre that any court would criminalise two people for loving each other.

"The magistrate was biased from outset. He refused the two men bail, which is very unusual in cases of non-violent offences. In Malawi, bail is normal. It is often granted to robbers and violent criminals. Denying Steven and Tiwonge bail was an act of vindictiveness.

"I appeal to governments worldwide, especially the South African government, to condemn this harsh, bigoted judgement and to urge its reversal," said Mr Tatchell.

Prior to the verdict, Tiwonge and Steven issued a defiant message from their prison cell. It affirmed their love for each other and thanked 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 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...Prison life is very difficult."

Peter Tatchell expressed his admiration of the two men:

"Steven and Tiwonge are showing immense fortitude and courage. They declared their love in a society where many people – not all – are very intolerant and homophobic. This was a very brave thing to do. Although suffering in prison, they are unbowed. They continue to maintain their love and affirm their human right to be treated with dignity and respect," said Mr Tatchell.

"They have taken a pioneering stand for the right to love. They love each other, have harmed no one and believe that love should not be a crime. It is nobody's business what they do in the privacy of their own home. There is no evidence that they have committed any crime under Malawian law. They should never have been put on trial. Even prior to their conviction, they had already spent nearly five months behind bars.

"OutRage! is supporting Steven and Tiwonge. For the last four months, we have arranged extra food to supplement the men's meagre, poor quality prison rations.

"We pay tribute to the other people and organisations who are giving legal and medical assistance to the detained men. This is a huge help. Steven and Tiwonge have asked me to communicate their appreciation," said Mr Tatchell.

Sixty-seven British MPs have signed a House of Commons Early Day Motion (EDM 564), which condemns the arrest and trial of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.

Amnesty International has adopted Steven and Tiwonge as Prisoners of Conscience.

Until quite recently Steven and Tiwonge did not realise that they had been adopted as Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty International. When this news was relayed to them in prison they were, to quote one source: "Very happy with the effort made by Amnesty International to accord them this status. They offer their thanks to Amnesty."

Tiwonge and Steven have also expressed appreciation for the protest on their behalf in London on 22 March.

The two men thanked London-based African and British activists who have lobbied the Malawian Ambassador and the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Human Rights Unit to seek their release and to secure medical treatment for Steven.

Steven's condition has stabilised but he remains very ill. He is thin and weak and has jaundiced eyes, according to an eye-witness who saw him last weekend.

Tiwonge and Steven are urging continued protests to "get our release and the dropping of charges by the Malawi government."

Write a letter to Steven and Tiwonge

Help boost their spirits. Show them you care. Send a letter or postcard of support to Steven and Tiwonge:

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, Prisoners, Chichiri Prison, P.O.Box 30117, Blantyre 3, Malawi. – Issued by OUTRAGE!


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