13.06.2010 Malawi

Malawi Gov’t, Police Threaten Re-arrest Gay Couple

13.06.2010 LISTEN
By Norman S. Miwambo

The Malawian gay couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been split up under homophobic pressure, this paper can reveal.

The couple, who had been sentenced to a 14 years hard labour in jail after convicted of homosexuality charges, was recently pardoned by Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika after the intervention of the United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Monjeza this week announced that he has decided to leave his partner Tiwonge Chimbalanga due to death threats, public insults and abuses which also coupled with threats to re-arrest the duo by the government and police.

“The couple had been subjected to many death threats and the government had also threatened to re-arrest them if they got back together,” said the London-based human rights campaigner Mr Peter Tatchell , who also doubles as a spokesman for the LGBT rights group OutRage! During the couple's five (5) months incarceration in Chichiri Prison, Mr Tatchell supported and campaigned for their release, along with many other people. Popstar singer Madonna also joined the crusade and issued a statement calling for the progressive people around the world challenge the imprisonment of the gay lover.

Mr Tatchell added: “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,” said Mr Tatchell, adding that: “I believe it was genuine affection and commitment.”

Mr Tatchell added: “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 quit, safe life. This would not be possible if he remained with Tiwonge,” said Mr Tatchell, adding that: “Both would be at risk of violent attack. Some people have threatened to kill them.”

He added: “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.”

The gay couple who regained their freedom last week had previously showed defiance and had vowed to keep their solidarity since they were arrested last December. Also in March this year, Amnesty International adopted the couple as 'Prisoners of Conscience' and continued to campaign for them. The couple's love was also boosted by an Early Day Motion (EDM 564) which was supported by 65 British Members of Parliament (MPs) in which they condemned their arrest and detention. According to Mr Tatchell, 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,” said Mr tatchell. He added: “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,” said Mr Tatchell, adding that: “Malawian and International human rights groups had no contact with them couple prior to their arrest. We did not encourage them.”

Mr Tatchell says that: “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 victimized.

"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.

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