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Malawi: The world reacts after sentencing of gay couple

A day after the world marked International Day against Homophobia, a court in Malawi sentenced Malawi gay couple to jail for fourteen years.

The gay couple, Steven Monjenza and Towonge Chimbalanga, hosted an engagement ceremony December 27 last year. They were immediately arrested and thrown in jail. They were denied bail for safety reasons, forced to go for psychiatric evaluation and a compulsory medical examination to confirm charges of sodomy.

Nyasa Times reports that they have been found guilty on charges of homosexuality “unnatural offenses” (Sections 153) and “indecent practices between males” (Article 156) of the Malawi Penal Code, a day after Malawi being declared a point of interest by IDAHO organisers:

Blantyre Magistrate Court has found guilty gay couple Steven Monjenza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, on charges of homosexuality.

Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa convicted the two when he pronounced his verdict on Tuesday.The couple could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.

The two male adults were arrested on 27 December, a day after they performed a public traditional engagement, the first by a Malawian same sex couple.

The  African Activist says in addition to being denied bail, they were humiliated in court and Tiwonge was forced to clean up his vomit despite being ill. They were held in protective custody when the judge said that they were safer inside prison than out:

In addition to the humiliation of forced medical exams, there have been several reports of the couple suffering humiliating treatment in court, including being mocked for their relationship by trial observers and forced to clean up vomit after one became ill. Since their arrest, Monjeza and Chimbalanga have been held in Chichiri Prison in Blantyre under “protective custody,” despite the fact that they and their lawyers have argued that they were unsafe in prison. The two were repeatedly denied bail, a decision condemned by the Malawi Law Society. The Malawi Law Society said in an interview “We feel that the reasons for [their] being denied bail were not meritable … It's like saying that let's keep them here until they get convicted. Really the reasons for refusing them bail are not in line with the Constitution”

This news has caused mixed reactions to people all over the world, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC)has written a letter to the Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika expressing  their disappointment of the ruling especially coming after he aired homophobic comments by saying homosexuality was “Un- Malawian, evil and disgusting” and linking it to corruption, violence, theft and prostitution. The letter pleads with the president as the head of African Union to revoke the verdict  and  ensure human rights for all Africans:

This ruling comes shortly after your recent comments on homosexuality and the recent harassment of a conference on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in HIV/AIDS programming. As the President of Malawi and as the Chairperson of the African Union, we ask that you reaffirm that all Africans are entitled to enjoy the human rights laid out in the African Charter and other domestic, regional and international documents, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. […]
IGLHRC is alarmed that today's verdict and your comments do not reflect a deep commitment to protecting and promoting these guarantees either in Malawi or within the African Union. We ask you to swiftly and publicly reaffirm the human rights of all Africans – including LGBT Malawians – to privacy and freedoms of assembly, association, opinion, and expression. We also ask that you demonstrate your commitment to those rights by investigating police harassment of the recent conference in Liwonge, reprimanding any wrongdoing by the police, pardoning and releasing Monjeza and Chimbalanga, and repealing all discriminatory laws which target LGBT Malawians and deprive them of their fundamental rights.

Mia Kirshner the Director of I Live here whose first project is in Kachere Juvenile Prison Malawi  expresses herself here:

Malawi is a beautiful country and is rich in culture and diversity. This ruling will be a stain on its beauty and richness.

Please. I ask that the international community of activists, the United Nations, politicians in Malawi and international human rights lawyers speak up and help these men.

By doing this, protection of individual rights will be served and precedent set to in order to open the doors for other couples to be able to stop living in fear.

As for me, I will continue to work in Malawi and continue to speak up and out. No one can stop me.

I won't give up on this beautiful country because I know that these draconian laws betray the great beauty of this country I love so much.

Alex Engwete, considers this case as a sign of madness spreading throughout Africa:

As I’ve been saying all along, there’s only one way that Western donors, who fund these African feudal and obscurantist governments, can rein in this madness spreading throughout Africa like bushfire: cut off aid to these banana republics… NOW!

Amnesty International has dubbed them as prisoners of conscience:

Amnesty International considers both men prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for their perceived consensual same sex relationship, and has urged the Malawian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the two men.

Anengiyefa was one of the bloggers anxiously waiting for the verdict. He says the Malawian government is unable to protect the children of the country but are on the front line to persecute harmless homosexual men:

I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Malawian government for failing to protect the children of the country. And yet it is this same government that will enthusiastically pursue and persecute harmless homosexual men. I eagerly await the verdict next Tuesday and the fallout thereafter if the couple are jailed. […] The Malawi Law Society (MLS), the professional body of the country's 200 lawyers, has spoken out in favour of the couple, saying that they are “not a threat to the society” and should be freed. This is an about-turn from a few months ago when Malawian lawyers proclaimed that the couple broke the law and deserve to face justice. It is a clear example of the effectiveness of the efforts of rights campaigners worldwide, who since this saga began in December 2009, have ceaselessly stressed the injustice that is inherent in the continued detention of the couple and how unlikely it is that they will get a fair trial in the face of such massively hostile public opinion.

Tiwonge thanked the world for their support and here is the killer quote:

“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.”

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