Malawi couple split under homophobic pressure

Victims of death threats, insults & abuse; Government & police threatened to re-arrest them

10 June, 2010

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga
LONDON — The Malawian couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, have split up. They had been recently pardoned by the President of Malawi, after having been sentenced to 14 years jail on charges of homosexuality.

Steven Monjeza this week announced that he has left his partner, Tiwonge Chimbalanga.

"The couple had been subjected to many death threats and the government had threatened to re-arrest them if they got back together," said London-based human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, spokesperson for the LGBT rights group OutRage! He supported the couple in prison and campaigned, along with many other people, for their release.

"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." added Mr Tatchell.

"It is a tragedy that homophobic threats and abuse have forced this couple apart. They were deeply in love. The pressure has got to Steven. Very understandably, he wants a quiet, safe life. This would not be possible if he remained with Tiwonge. Both would be at risk of violent attack. Some people have threatened to kill them. I respect their decision to split. It is up to them.

"I feel sorry for these star-crossed lovers. Like Romeo and Juliet, their love has been destroyed by prejudice and hatred.

"Tiwonge and Steven never set out to be political. Their engagement ceremony was not staged. No one was coerced and no one pressured them to do it. They did it solely out of love for each other. It was their idea. They did it themselves, without outside help. Their arrest and prosecution was not expected, since their ceremony was not illegal under Malawian law.

"There was no payment to anyone involved. No one has gained financially from this case.

"Malawian and international human rights groups had no contact with the couple prior to their arrest. We did not encourage them. The only role of human rights organisations was to support them after they were arrested and jailed.

"Whatever their feelings for each other now, Steven and Tiwonge have done more for gay and transgender rights in Malawi than anyone else. I salute them. They are lions of Africa. They have helped continue the unfinished African liberation struggle by pursuing freedom for gay, bisexual and transgender Africans.

"Thanks to them, same-sex love is now visible in Malawi. There has been a huge public debate. This awareness and discussion is positive. It has helped break down homophobic ignorance and prejudice.

"Not all Malawian people are anti-gay. Many are just curious, some believe in live-and-let live and others support the couple's right to love.

"Steven and Tiwonge harmed no one. They defended the right to love. In the long run, all Malawian lesbian and gay people will benefit from the trail they have blazed.

"I supported Steven and Tiwonge for the same reasons that in the 1970s and 80s I supported Malawian democracy activists who were jailed by the dictator, Dr Hastings Banda. This couple harmed no one. They had a right to live their lives without being victimised.

"I am a long-standing friend of the Malawian people. Many years ago, I supported the democracy and human rights movement in Malawi. In 1978, aged 26, I came to Malawi to investigate human rights abuses and the plight of political prisoners, and to expose the conditions on British-owned plantations. Posing as a student tourist, I was able to discover the terrible conditions on the Ruo tea estates at Mulanje (child labour, long hours, poor wages, bad food etc).

"When I came back to the UK, I helped establish the Malawi Support Committee to campaign against the dictatorship of Dr Hastings Banda, support jailed political prisoners and press for improved wages and working conditions for Malawians employed on foreign-owned plantations. I was a friend of the late Dr Attati Mpakati, the leader of LESOMA (the Socialist League of Malawi), who was jailed in Chichiri prison and was later assassinated by Dr Banda in 1983," said Mr Tatchell. – Issued by Outrage!

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