Pardoned Malawi Couple Appear on TV

Jim Burroway

June 3rd, 2010

In the following video taken from TV Malawi and posted on YouTube, you will first see Tiwonge Chimbalanga talking to a reporter. After about a minute, Tiwonge is joined by Steven Monjeza. They are speaking in Chichewa, so if anyone can translate what’s being said that would be extremely helpful.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mff0WNvBcfw

Steven and Tiwonge appeared at a brief news conference in which they thanked President Bingu wa Mutharika for pardoning them last week after they were convicted and sentenced to fourteen years at hard labor for “gross indecency and unnatural acts” following a traditional engagement ceremony last December. The news conference took place yesterday in the administrative capital of Lilongwe. AFP reports:

A Malawian gay couple who received a presidential pardon on a 14-year sentence for sodomy on Thursday called President Bingu wa Mutharika a “caring father” and a “tolerant president.”

“The president has demonstrated that he is a caring father, a considerate and tolerant president. We wish him good health in his everyday endeavours as he continues leading the country to respecting human rights and to economic prosperity,” the couple said in a statement.

… The couple asked the media and the general public to respect their privacy. “So much has been said and written about us, both positive and negative. We think this is the time for us to be given an opportunity to enjoy our freedom,” they said. They called their ordeal “the most stressful period in our lives.”

Chimbalanga told AFP in a phone interview that he was in Lilongwe to “have a breather”, while his partner had returned to his village.

The Malawi Voice had earlier quoted  Steven Monjeza as defiant, despite having been rejected by relatives following the couple’s release:

Prison love cemented our love and whatever happened then remains the same now. I don’t regret falling in love with Chimbalanga. I love him and I will continue doing that,” he said.

Also yesterday, President Mutharika called on reporters and everyone else to stop talking about the “satanic” gays. The story ends there,” he said. “I don’t want to hear anyone commenting on them. Nobody is authorized to comment on the gays. You will spoil things.”

Mutharika also acknowledged to the Malawi Voice that while there was tremendous pressure from foreign donor nations to release Steven and Tiwonge:

“Let me admit that there was pressure from the international community, who threatened to withdraw aid, so we have Zimbabwe to borrow a leaf from. Malawi needs their monies more than her morals to survive.

But despite that recognition, he painted his pardon as a humanitarian act:

“I’ve brought them back for the society to correct them and re-teach them our moral, if God, who we attach all these morals forgive, who are we to condemn them,” said Mutharika.

…”However on humanity, I believe these people have suffered enough emotional pain and the four walls of a jail will only inflict physical pain which is much laser than the emotional. So with the constitution powers vested in me as a president of the republic of Malawi, I therefore pardon them and order for their immediate release.” Said Mutharika.

Regan DuCasse

June 3rd, 2010

Nice looking young men. One is more outspoken than the other, and all I can tell by their posture is that there is still much pressure on them to say the right things publicly, but this is still a threatening and harsh situation.

There is a lot of courage on their part to speak. But I get the sense too, of their President further aggrandizing himself (and not wanting any financial sacrifices to be made), yet…still expecting gays and lesbians to remember the power he has over their lives.

No matter what, the heterosexual hierarchy in all these countries…and ours always manages to exploit gay people for their own ends, while making a mess of gay lives.
Our President Barack Obama, is a case in point.

Richard Rosendall

June 4th, 2010

Regan, it is odd that progressives from Western countries so often equate the situation in their countries with those in countries where gay people are routinely and officially brutalized.

I do not minimize the continuing injustice faced by LGBT people in the U.S. and elsewhere; the fact that I continue to be an activist demonstrates my dissatisfaction with the status quo. Of course we have a long way to go in the U.S., but it is an insult to people like Steven and Tiwonge, whose experience is far worse than ours in the U.S., to pretend that President Obama is comparable to President Mutharika.

I don’t see how it helps our cause to refuse to acknowledge the progress we have made just because it is not enough. The fact that it is not everything does not mean it is nothing. An imperfect ally like Obama is nonetheless an ally. Would Mutharika have signed Obama’s pro-gay executive memoranda, the trans-inclusive hate crime law, or work with the national legislature for even a delayed repeal of the military gay ban? Even gestures that do not change the law, like Obama’s Stonewall 40 reception in the White House, are a far cry from the treatment of LGBT people by Mutharika.

To be sure, the situation for transgenders in the U.S. is a good deal worse than for gay men and lesbians. This is reflected in my own group’s latest policy briefing paper, at http://www.tinyurl.com/glaa2010 . But surely few American transgenders would wish to trade places with Tiwo.

Do we really need to talk as if there are two and only two positions on any given topic? Can’t we allow shades of gray? Can’t we give whatever paltry credit is due without being accused of selling out? How are Steven and Tiwo, whose situation scares and sickens me, helped by our pose of moral equivalence?

Priya Lynn

June 4th, 2010

Richard you’re reading stuff that is not there. Regan did not say President Obama is comparable to President Mutharika and she has not refused to acknowledge the progress that has been made.

Richard Rosendall

June 4th, 2010

Priya, don’t let’s play games. Regan’s third paragraph suggests an all-too-familiar worldview. She cited Obama’s alleged exploitation as an example to illustrate her generalization about “heterosexual hierarchy in all these countries…and ours.” That is agit-prop that erases vast differences.

Priya Lynn

June 4th, 2010

You’re the one playing games Richard. You went way beyond what she expressed in her post.

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