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Malawi “People Like You” Given 14 Year Sentence

Jim Burroway

May 20th, 2010

Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R)

Declaring that he wanted to protect the public “from people like you,” Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa of Blantyre Magistrates Court sentenced Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, to 14 years in prison with hard labor, the maximum sentence under Malawi law, after having found them found guilty of gross indecency and unnatural acts:

“I sentence you to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour each. That’s the maximum under the penal code,” magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa told the two men in a courtroom in the capital Blantyre.

“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 added.

“Malawi is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons.”

The BBC reports that Monjeza broke down in tears when he heard the sentence, while Chimbalanga remained calm.

As they were escorted away under heavy police guard, hundreds of onlookers outside the court shouted abuse at them,. One woman reportedly yelled, “Malawi should never allow homosexuality at any cost.”

The couple’s lawyer said that they would appeal the verdict to High Court.

Human rights groups call the ruling a significant blow:

Undule Mwakasungura, director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said the sentence would drive gays into hiding. “Malawi needs to sit down and tackle the issue of gays,” he said. “We have many of them who need to publicly access information and HIV and AIDS medical care. It’s a big let-down.”

The U.S. State Department has condemned the conviction:

The United States is deeply disappointed in [the] conviction of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi,” said assistant secretary Phillip J. Crowley at a press briefing Wednesday. “We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. The government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens. The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world.”

Britain has also denounced the move:

“We are deeply dismayed by the conviction for buggery and indecent practices of Mr. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr. Steven Monjeza,” said a joint statement issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). “We are also very concerned by the allegations of their mistreatment in police custody,” added FCO Minister Henry Bellingham, International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone.

Three British MP’s have called for a Human Rights review in Malawi. In a press release, UK LGBT Advocate Peter Tatchell warns that a fourteen year sentence under Malawi’s harsh prison system could effectively mean the death penalty for Steven and Tiwonge:

“Fourteen years with hard labour could kill Steven and Tiwonge. Prison conditions are appallingly unhealthy,” he said.

“Detainees die in custody. Infectious diseases like TB are rife. Medical treatment is sub-standard. Food rations are very poor nutritional value; mostly maize porridge, beans and water, causing malnutrition. After only five months behind bars, Steven has been seriously ill and has not received proper medical treatment.”

Comments

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Ben in Oakland
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

Will any of these protesting governments offer the couple asylum?

justsearching
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

The US and the UK have pretty good ties with Malawi. The BBC article states that the UK has not withdrawn any aid to Malawi. If the US sends aid, I doubt that this aid would be affected either. Money speaks louder than words.

This story is revolting. These two guys publicly affirm their commitment to each other in an engagement ceremony, and they are considered a risk. The only risk in permitting this sort of thing to take place is that the people of Malawi might see that there is some level of comparability between heterosexual and homosexual unions/relationships. Dangerous indeed.

Timothy Kincaid
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

“People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame… It is the worst case I have ever tried…. I shall, under such circumstances, be expected to pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case as this. The sentence of the Court is that… you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years. ”

The sentence given to Oscar Wilde in 1894. Malawi is still behaving as though it were under Victorian England rule.

Chris McCoy
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

Yahoo news is carrying the story, also.
The vitriol spewed forth in the comments section reminds me that we still have a long way to go to overcome anti-gay bias, even in our own country.

L. Junius Brutus
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

Chris, that serves a useful purpose. Ever hear people say that anti-gay bigots are simply good people who disagree with us? No doubt, but no one but the most evil, lowly and depraved of persons could make 90% of the anti-gay comments made on the site you linked to.

Fred in the UK
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

In response to justsearching’s point about withdrawal of aid to Malawi. The U.K.’s Minister of State for International Development, Alan Duncan MP, (who is himself gay) has issued a statement defending a policy of not withdrawing aid.

Soren456
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

@Chris McCoy:

Add the BBC. I’ve just sat through their show call-in show “World Have Your Say,” which a couple months ago thought it appropriate to “debate” the Ugandan death sentence.

Today’s topic was whether Malawi should “take pride” in this sentence. Bad enough, but the actual debate turned to whether the sentence is too harsh or too lenient. The Robin Leach-manque “moderator” did little to nothing to counter pure hateful ignorance, granting disproportionate air time to his guest, an utterly ignorant and smug African man whose belief is that a life sentence (if not death) is appropriate.

I’m just sputtering here. I can’t type.

Why the BBC or any legitimate outlet believes that this is open to debate is simply beyond me.

Mark F.
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

I think all government to government foreign aid should end regardless of the country. And exactly how a governent can defend foreign aid when its own citizens are in need and its budget is out of balance is puzzling.

Lucrece
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

That same poor filth that Alan Duncan is defending have no problem denying the right to life to their own, so why do they deserve such a courtesy from Britain?

Urgent representation? Such bullsh!t. This is just a tell-tale sign of where the rights of gay people rank in the priority meter. If this were some racial or sexual persecution, the consequences would actually be solid. Do they not remember where their appeasement talks got them earlier in history?

All these governments do is finger-waving. But since there is no oil to take, or Christian ideology threatened, intervention from the U.S. or Britain will remain empty words.

justsearching
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

I was aware of Malawi’s poverty prior to posting, and of course I wouldn’t want the poorest of the poor to suffer in addition to these two convicted men. Nor would I suggest withdrawing aid based on this one ruling. I would agree with with what Duncan stated:

“And we will have this unjust and harsh conviction at the forefront of our minds when we negotiate the way we deliver our aid in future.

We cannot and will not let down the poor of Malawi – for too many of them international aid is a matter of life or death – but we do expect their government to face up to its international and domestic obligations.”

Maurice Lacunza
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

This is a sad day for human and gay rights. I am very dismayed and hope that our governments will step up and do something more than issue a statement.

John in the Bay Area
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

How much foreign aide that is sent to Malawi gets to the intended recipients? How much is stolen by government officials along the way? Who are the biggest actual beneficiaries of foreign aide to Malawi(on a personal basis)?

In many corrupt countries (and I am not sure what the corruption level in Malawi is), corrupt officials are more likely to be hurt by aide cutoff than the poor, who weren’t recieving the benefits anyway.

MJC
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

Horrendous. Very, very sad. These people must be pretty shaky in their own sexual orientation(s) if they think that other people’s behavior can be somehow ‘caught’ or ‘spread’.

Emily K
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

It makes me grieve. but what can we do?? they’ll probably meet a martyr’s end… :'(

Mark F.
May 20th, 2010 | LINK

Oh, and this country is 80% Christian , so you can’t blame the Muslims for this.

HCM
May 21st, 2010 | LINK

These countries should be thanking their lucky fictitious pixies that the targets of these laws haven’t already joined Al-Qaeda for revenge suicide. :(

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