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Posts for May, 2010

Malawi Frees Couple Imprisoned for Sodomy

Jim Burroway

May 29th, 2010

Steven Monjeza (foreground) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga being led away following their sentencing to 14 years at hard labor

Following a visit from U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika announced the pardon of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. He has ordered the immediate release of the couple, according to Malawi-based Nyasa Times:

“I have decided that with effect from today, they are pardoned and they will be released,” President Mutharika told a battery of reporters after meeting UN boss.

…“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws,” said the Malawi President. “However, as the head of state I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions.”

He added: “I have done this on humanitarian grounds but this does not mean that I support this.”

According to the BBC, Mr. Ban hailed the move as “courageous.” “This outdated penal code should be reformed wherever it may exist,” he said.

The U.N. General Secretary is in Malawi to speak before Malawi’s Parliament as part of celebrations over the opening of the nation’s new Chinese-built Parliament Building in the recently-designated capital of Lilongwe. The BBC and the Guardian (UK) report that Mr. Ban is expected to call on Parliament to rescind its anti-sodomy laws.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who identifies as a woman, were given the maximum sentence of fourteen years at hard labor last week on charges of “gross indecency” and “unnatural acts,” following a traditional engagement ceremony the couple held last December.

It is unclear when Steven and Tiwonge will actually be released, and it is more uncertain as to where they would go. Their case has gained worldwide attention and their photos are well-known throughout Malawi.

Their release is marks an important development in gay rights on the African continent. Throughout 2009 and 2010, virulent anti-gay campaigns had broken out in several African countries, with Uganda threatening to hang gay people who were HIV-positive and jail everyone else who had anything to do with them. Ugandan leaders bragged that their proposal was a demonstration of “leadership to the world” against LGBT people, but international pressure has led to multiple news reports hinting that the bill may die a quiet death. If Malawi’s conviction and imprisoning of Steven and Tiwonge was left to stand, it was feared that other nations on the continent may be encourage to initiate or revive their own anti-gay campaigns.

The Malawi Couple: Gay or Transgender? Or Something Else?

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.

Jim Burroway

May 22nd, 2010

Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R). Tiwonge is wearing a traditional woman's headdress in this photo.

Transgender advocate Autumn Sandeen has published a post on Pam’s House Blend calling attention to something that we noticed on January 5th — that Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who was convicted and sentenced with Steven Monjeza to 14 years at hard labor under Malawi’s harsh anti-homosexuality law, actually identifies as a woman. Since learning of this, we’ve been extremely careful at BTB not to use the term “gay” to describe Tiwonge, and we’ve tried to avoid the use of male pronouns. (Actually, we’ve tried to avoid the use of pronouns altogether when talking about Tiwonge, as I’ll explain in a moment.) Unfortunately, other blogs and media outlets haven’t been so careful. Autumn notes:

[L]et’s be honest with ourselves — I believe we can safely say that from past coverage by the LGBT press and LGBT blogosphere that this story would not have gained as much traction in LGBT media if this were considered a transgender or intersex story.

And, that’s sad. Transphobia and homophobia both arise from the same root — that root has to do a lot with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer people not conforming with societal sex and gender norms…Especially societal sex and gender norms for those considered to be male. And, that root has a lot to do with misogyny.

But, the erasing of the woman in this story’s intersex, transgender, and/or transsexual history from this story says a lot about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and its media.

I agree wholeheartedly with Autumn’s point that this story does say a lot about the LGBT community and media. But I also think that Autumn’s position, as admirable and fully correct as it is from a Western point of view, says more about the construction of sexuality and gender in Western society than it does about how people in other cultures actually see themselves.

As I said, we have avoided describing Tiwonge and Steven as a “gay” couple, but we’ve also avoided describing Tiwonge as intersex, transgender or transsexual, and for good reason. None of these terms may describe Tiwonge very well because they speak to a Western, Euro-centric understanding of sexuality and gender, and not an African one.

And it’s critical that we wrap our brains around this because otherwise we will fail to fully honor Tiwonge. We know that Tiwonge identifies as a woman. We also know that Tiwonge wears women’s clothing.  We also know that Malawi court officials assigned Tiwonge the “woman’s job” of mopping up her own vomit when she fell ill in court, although that was clearly an act of humiliation by assigning her a “woman’s” duty rather than a respectful recognition of her self-identity (which furthers Autumn’s point about misogyny.)

(And for the time being, I’ll use the female pronoun to describe Tiwonge although I have no idea if that’s the pronoun that Tiwonge prefers. Tiwonge may actually prefer male pronouns, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.)

By Western standards, all of this evidence would be sufficient to remove Tiwonge from the “gay” box and placed her neatly and tidily in the “transgender” box, and the rest of the story would (or at least, should) proceed accordingly. And certainly if we must place Tiwonge in such a box, there is a much stronger case for using the transgender box than the gay one. But doing so may not be the best way to honor Tiwonge’s self-identity.

Research indicates that in contemporary western cultures where gender roles between men and women are more equalized, gender differences often are more pronounced when identified with a set of traits. Standardized measures for aggressiveness and openness to ideas correlate to males, while standardized measures for agreeableness, warmth and openness to feelings correlate more strongly to females. This finding, which has been replicated elsewhere, baffled researchers who expected the equalization of gender roles to result in a similar equalization of gender traits. And they were further surprised that gender traits were actually more equalized in traditional societies where gender role differences were much stronger.

It turns out that in many traditional cultures, it may be more acceptable for women to take on what westerners perceive as “masculine” traits, and for men to take on what westerners would label more “feminine” traits. Which means that many of the external peripheral markers that we use to understand the contours of our masculinity or femininity become less important in many traditional cultures. But in these non-western cultures, gender roles — what men and women do as opposed to who they are — are considered much more important in defining what is a man and what is a woman. Against that realty, our understanding of gay/straight/transgender/whatever has only a passing relevance.

And this research appears to confirm a trend that I have noticed in my own reading of LGBT narratives from Africa. I’ve noticed that some men in particular appear to shift quite easily back and forth between masculine and feminine gender identities, and that these shifts appear to mark an identification of gender roles, whether that role may be the role someone takes in an intimate setting, or a broader role in a community or society. I’ve seen narratives where a man may take a woman’s name, and then he later shifts back to his original male name with little apparent consternation or confusion to those around him. And where I’ve seen this happen, it has appeared to me to be a reflection of gender role more so than gender identity. These appear to be men who also sometimes see themselves as women, but with little apparent intention of seeing themselves as transgender. In other words, the identification appears to describe a role by taking on the cultural trappings of that role, but not a definitive declaration of a state of being as is generally the case among transgender people in the West. (Although, of course, it must be said that there really are transgender people in Africa, in precisely the same sense in which there are transgender people elsewhere in the world.)

So if I may, I would like to take three seconds to pat myself on the back for having avoided the term “gay” to describe Tiwonge. I wish others had been similarly careful. But I suppose I will now have to expose myself for a share of bricks being thrown my way for refusing to describe Tiwonge as transgender. I’m sorry, but I’m not fully convinced that “transgender” is an accurate description either, at least not until I hear it coming from Tiwonge himself or herself. I readily concede that if we must apply a Western term, transgender appears to be a much more accurate descriptor than gay. But in the interest of fuller accuracy, I will stick to the only description that Tiwonge provides, and the one I find to be the most accurate: Tiwonge identifies as a woman. And she does so according to her understanding of what it means to be a woman in the context of her culture. Until we hear otherwise from Tiwonge directly, there cannot be a more accurate description than that.

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.”

Malawi Government Pleased With Homosexuality Conviction

Jim Burroway

May 19th, 2010

The Malawian Minister of Information, Leckford Mwanza Thotho reacts to yesterday’s conviction of Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, for gross indecency and “unnatural acts.” Thus saith Thotho:

“What we are saying is that the ruling or the court proceeding as of today, reflects our tradition in Malawi. It just shows that the gay issue is against our culture in Malawi,” he said.

…“What I’m trying to say is if polygamy is not allowed in America and we have not forced you to do that for the sake of human rights…so, if other countries allowed polygamy, and we say you have to allow polygamy for the sake of human rights, we are not doing fair to your situation in America. So, it’s the same thing with our country. Homosexuality is a taboo in Malawi,” Thotho said.

Malawi Couple Found Guilty of Homosexuality

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2010

Steven Monjeza (left) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (right)

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were found guilty today of gross indecency and “unnatural acts” in a verdict delivered at Blantyre Magistrate’s Court. Said Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa, “The state has proven beyond reasonable doubt that these gentlemen had sex despite them being male, which is against the law of Malawi.” The couple will be sentenced on Thursday, May 20. They face up to fourteen years imprisonment with hard labor. Lawyers hope to reverse the decision at High Court.

The verdict has earned condemnation from around the world:

“We have a reached a point in Malawi where we need to decide whether we regard minority groups as equal to others in terms of their human rights,” said Gift Trapence, executive director of the human rights group Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), who was in the courtroom Tuesday.

“Malawi is using laws brought in by the British,” he said. “They need to be updated.”

UK LGBT Advoate Peter Tatchell, who has been in close contact with Steven and Tiwonge, also denounced the verdict via press release:

“The law under which they were convicted is a discriminatory law that only applies to same-sex relations. It is unconstitutional. Article 20 of Malawi’s constitution guarantees equality and non-discrimination. The law in Malawi is not supposed to discriminate,” added Mr Tatchell.

“Malawi’s anti-gay laws were not devised by Malawians. They were devised in London in the nineteenth century and imposed on the people of Malawi by the British colonisers and their army of occupation. Before the British came and conquered Malawi, there were no laws against homosexuality. These laws are a foreign imposition. They are not African laws.

“I expect both men will now appeal against the verdict and against any sentence that is handed down. Steven and Tiwonge’s best hope is that a higher court will overturn this unjust, cruel verdict.”

Tatchell noted that the Magistrate appeared biased throughout the trial. The Magistrate had denied bail to the couple, which is an extreme rarity for a non-violent crime. The Magistrate also permitted witnesses from the gallery and court personnel to abuse the couple during official court proceedings.

Tatchell also reports that you can write to Steven and Tiwonge to offer them your support. You can address your letters and post cards to  Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, Prisoners, Chichiri Prison, P.O.Box 30117, Blantyre 3, Malawi.

Update: Despite international condemnation, the Malawian government is quite pleased with the conviction.

Judgment Day for Steven and Tiwonge

Jim Burroway

May 18th, 2010

Steven Monjeza (left) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (right)

A Malawi Court will render its verdict today in the case involving Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who were charged with buggery and gross indecency following a traditional engagement ceremony last December. The two will appear today before a Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa at Blantyre Magistrates Court, where they face up to fourteen years at hard labor. The Guardian (UK) reports that the Tiwonge and Steven have remained loyal to each other despite the hardships they’ve already faced:

Peter Tatchell, the veteran British gay rights campaigner, has maintained contact with the pair at the maximum security Chichiri prison in Blantyre as they prepare to stand trial next week.

Tatchell told the Guardian he received a defiant message from Chimbalanga that said: “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.”

Tatchell, of the rights group Outrage!, also quoted Monjeza – who is described as thin and weak with jaundiced eyes – as saying: “We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will never stop loving Tiwonge.”

The Guardian also reports that Tiwonge and Steven have been abandoned by their relatives:

Angry residents and relatives from Machinjiri township, on the outskirts of Blantyre, say they will not allow them to return home if they are set free.

“They have given this township a bad name,” said Maikolo Phiri, a local vendor.

Zione Monjeza, an aunt of Monjeza, said: “We as a family have been terribly embarrassed to be associated with this gay thing. It’s a curse and a big shame. We will chase them away if they are freed.”

Nchiteni Monjeza, Monjeza’s uncle, said: “I won’t drop a tear if they are jailed – they deserve it.”

US Reps, Malawi Law Society Call For Prisoners’ Release

Jim Burroway

May 13th, 2010

Sometimes news originating closer to home comes to us from half a world away, and in this case this is an especially good sign. It means that the main newspapers in Malawi are paying close attention to possible repercussions from abroad which stem from the ongoing prosecution of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who have been held in deplorable conditions in a prison since late December on charges of buggery and “gross indecency” following a traditional engagement ceremony.

BNL Times and Nyasa Times are both reporting that a resolution is making its way through the US House Foreign Affairs Committee calling on the Malawi government to immediately release Chimbalanga and Monjeza “law and on humanitarian grounds.” Monjeza has reportedly been seriously ill and has been denied decent food and medical treatment.

The resolution further calls on the Malawi government to “urgently address the pervasive violation of human rights in Malawi and the criminalization of conduct by consenting adults” and directs Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to monitor human rights abuses based on sexual orientation in Malawi.

The resolution, introduced on May 6, was sponsored by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and cosponsored by Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Edward Markey (D-MA). The Nyasa Times adds that “The representatives aim to pass the resolution next week in order to help the couple before their final verdict slated on May 18 at the Blantyre magistrate court.” The couple face a maximum fourteen years imprisonment under harsh conditions.

In related news, the Nyasa Times also reports that the Malawi Law Society has also called for the couple’s immediate release, saying the society does not pose a danger to them and vice versa. Stephen and Tiwonge, who identifies as a woman, were denied bail ostensibly  “for their own safety.”

Jailed Gay Malawian Reportedly Seriously Ill

Jim Burroway

April 13th, 2010

Stephen Monjeza, the Malawi man who has been imprisoned since late December for holding an engagement party with Tiwonge Chimbalanga who identifies as a woman, is critically ill and has been “vomiting, coughing and suffering from pain and pressure in his chest for the last eleven days,” according to UK LGBT advocate Peter Tatchell. Monjeza is being held in what has been described as deplorable conditions at Chichiri Prison in Blantyre, where sources tell Tatchell that he has been deprived of proper food, sanitation or medical care:

He looks very ill and has lost weight,” Tatchell quotes a prison source. He says that people who have seen him fear his health and that he needs urgent hospital care. “The prison authorities have failed to give Steven proper treatment, or even sufficient pain killers. His pain-killers ran out on 10 April,” said Tatchell.

He added: “My informant says Mr Monjeza urgently needs to go to hospital for a full medical examination and treatment. His health is likely to deteriorate further unless he gets swift medical care.”

Stephen and Tiwonge have been adopted by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience.” According to reports, their trial for buggery and “gross indecency” is still ongoing. A final sentencing is expected on May 18. The couple face up to fourteen years’ imprisonment if convicted.

Malawi Sentencing Delayed, Someone Remembered the Defense Has a Right to Call Witnesses

Jim Burroway

March 22nd, 2010

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, the couple in Malawi who were charged with “gross indecency” following a traditional engagement ceremony and were expected to be sentenced today, has had the conclusion of their trial delayed until at least April 8. According to news sources, Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa will rule on “whether Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga has a case to answer or not.” I take that to mean a judgment of guilty or not guilty, but I’m not familiar with Malawi court proceedings and can’t say for sure. If anyone has an explanation, please give us a clue in the comments.

Update: Here’s a clue:

The court has established a prima facie case against the accused persons,” the judge told the courtroom, adding that the couple could call their witnesses from April 3. “The accused will want to defend themselves and call their own witnesses,” the couple’s lawyer Oswald Ntuwakale told AFP.

Oh, yeah. They get to call witnesses for their defense before they are declared guilty and sentenced. Glad someone remembered that.

Update: Here’s what’s really happening.Earlier reports that said that today’s court session was to be the sentencing were wrong. While some local reporters were eager to rush to judgement, the judge was not. The prosecution presented their case, and the judge has now ruled that there is enough evidence to prevent the judge from dismissing the case for lack of evidence. So now it is the defense’s turn. The trial continues.

State Department Issues Annual Human Rights Report, Highlights Uganda

Jim Burroway

March 12th, 2010

The State Department has issued its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009, which shows that LGBT people continue to experience state-sanctioned or permitted violence and discrimination. For example, the report notes the following cases of human rights violations against LGBT people in Uganda:

For example, on April 5, police in Mbale District arrested SMUG activists Fred Wasukira and Brian Mpadde. On April 17, a court in Mbale charged Wasukira and Mpadde with homosexual conduct and remanded the suspects to Maluke prison. On May 20, the court released Wasukira on police bail; Mpadde was released on June 16. The case was ongoing at year’s end.

On June 19, police in Kitgum interrogated former police coach Charles Ayeikoh over allegations that he was involved in homosexual acts. An investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

In July the administration of Mbalala Senior Secondary School in Mukono District dismissed student John Paul Mulumba after he acknowledged that he was a SMUG member.

During the year the UHRC stopped investigating the July 2008 case in which SMUG activist Usaam Mukwaya alleged that police tortured and humiliated him during an illegal detention; Mukwaya reportedly decided not to pursue the case.

During the year police dismissed for lack of evidence a September 2008 case against SMUG members George Oundo and Brenda Kiiza, who were charged with indecent practices.

LGBT persons were also subject to societal harassment and discrimination.

For example, on March 17, the Uganda Joint Christian Council and the Family Life Network launched a campaign to curb homosexual conduct in higher institutions. SMUG accused the organizers of using religion to attack the LGBT community in the country.

The report also mentions arrests, executions, and other violence and abuses in Malawi, Senegal, Nigeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, and elsewhere around the world.

Reuters: Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill Hinders Investments

Jim Burroway

March 3rd, 2010

From Ed Cropley, Reuter’s African Investment Correspondent:

Malawi and Zambia are set to win hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. infrastructure grants in the next two years due to steady improvements in the way they are run, U.S. aid officials said on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, an anti-gay law being tabled in Uganda is likely to hamper the east African country’s progress from ‘threshold’ partner with the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) aid arm to fully-fledged grant-receiver.

… “How a government deals with its human rights situation is definitely an indicator that we think is important,” said Cassandra Butts, senior adviser to the MCC’s chief executive. “That will be something we will review and we will make a determination of our continued investment in Uganda,” she told reporters at an investment conference in South Africa.

The MCC has a budget of US$1.5 billion over the next five years, with only US$10 million earmarked for Uganda, which it sees as a “threshold” country partly due to its troublesome human rights record and rampant corruption. Neighboring Tanzania, in contrast, is a “compact” country with a five-year deal worth US$698 million.

However, Malawi will also be brought in is also seen as a “compact” country later this year, making it eligible for higher levels of development aid. That development comes despite an arrest of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga last December on charges of “gross indecency” following a traditional wedding ceremony. They are scheduled to be sentenced on March 22 following a show trial involving massive abuses. Meanwhile, Malawi authorities have arrested one LGBT advocate and are at last report conducting a witch hunt for LGBT citizens in that country.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Malawi Constitutional Court Refuses To Block Trial

Jim Burroway

February 23rd, 2010

Malawi’s Constitutional court refused to refused to hear the case of Tiwonge Chimbalanga (who identifies as a woman) and Steven Monjeza, who were arrested and charged with “gross indecency” in December following a traditional engagement ceremony. Their lawyer, Mauya Msuku, appealed to the high court in January, arguing that Malawi’s anti-homosexuality laws violated their constitutional rights to privacy, belief and self-expression. Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo disagreed, saying that the case was a simple criminal proceeding.

The couple have pleaded no guilty. The verdict is expected to be handed down March 22. Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, where it carries a sentence of up to 14 years with hard labor.

Malawi Couple To Be Sentenced March 22

Jim Burroway

February 18th, 2010
Steven Monjeza (R) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (L)

Steven Monjeza (R) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (L)

A Malawi court will sentence Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza next month of charges of “gross indecency.” Chimbalanga, who identifies as a woman, and Monjeza were arrested last December after holding a traditional engagement ceremony. The couple face a maximum sentece of 14 years at hard labor.

The couple have complained at gross mistreatment by police and fellow prisoners, and were subjected to humiliating “medical” examinations. They were also abused in court, when Tiwonge Chimbalanga fell ill during the trial and was forced to clean up her own vomit.

Since the couple’s arrest, Malawi authorities have arrested an LGBT advocate for hanging gay rights posters in Blantyre, the country’s commercial and judicial capital. There has also been an announced crackdown on a “network of high-profile” LGBT people, which has already netted at least one other arrest. That witch-hunt is expected to continue.

Gay Witch-Hunt Underway In Malawi

Jim Burroway

February 17th, 2010

Malawi authorities are on the hunt:

Malawi Police have uncovered a network of high-profile people who are involved homosexual acts including University of Malawi lectures and priests police spokesman said. Davie Chingwalu, police spokesman for the Southern Region is quoted by Associated Press that police investigation indicates that some University of Malawi lectures are involved in practices of homosexuality.

“Some are white expatriates, some are priests while others are university lecturers,” Chingwalu is quoted by AP. … Chingwalu said police are still investigating the matter and warned that “we will arrest them all.”

A deputy government spokesman, Kingsley Namankhwa, urged gays to “come out in the open” so that they can be arrested. Police have already arrested Tony Chirwa, 60, on a complaint that he “sodomized” a 23-year-old man.

Last December, 26-year-old Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were arrested following a traditional engagement ceremony. They have since been charged with buggery or unnatural acts between males and gross indecency, which carries a sentence of fourteen years at hard labor.

Two weeks ago, police arrested Peter Sawali, 21, for posting gay-rights posters in the city of Blantyre, the country’s commercial and judicial capital. He was sentenced to two months’ community service.

Malawi Gay Rights Advocate Arrested

Jim Burroway

February 2nd, 2010

Malawi’s Nyasa Times reports that police in Blantyre, the country’s commercial and judicial capital, have arrested Peter Sawali, 21, who was hanging gay rights posters in the city. He was charged with “conduct likely to cause breach of peace,” according to a police spokesman.

Malawi’s treatment of its LGBT citizens have come under international scrutiny following the December 28 arrest of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chumbalanga under Malawi’s anti-homosexuality law. The couple have been denied bail by Malawi’s High Court. They are currently on trial, facing a possibility of ten years’ imprisonment.

Malawi Couple Denied Bail A Second Time, Lawmakers Consider Harsher Punishments for LGBTs

Jim Burroway

January 29th, 2010
Steven Monjeza (R) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (L)

Steven Monjeza (R) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (L)

Malawi’s High Court Judge Rowland Mbvundula has refused an appeal seeking bail for, the couple who were arrested on December 28 and charged with “gross indecency” following a traditional engagement ceremony. Tiwonge identifies as a woman and may be intersex. She was banished from her village when she was thirteen.

Steven and Tiwonge have reported repeated mistreatment in the hands of police, prison officials, fellow prisoners, and even court officials during trial. Malawi’s Nyasa Times reports that the High Court judge denied the bail on appeal for the couple’s own protection:

Judge Mbvundula also pointed out the same in his ruling: “In the current circumstances, the state is validly concerned about and interested in the applicants’ safety and justified to be wary of releasing them into the community, at least for the time being.”

State prosecutor Dickens Mwambazi objected to the bail appeal saying the police  fear the couple, who have pleaded not guilty, would “tamper with evidence” if released on bail.

Malawi Gay Rights Movement (Magrim) announced that they will hold a demonstration on Sunday in Blantyre, Malawi’s financial capital and largest city.

The arrests in Malawi, a former British colony, has been condemned  by British and Scottish lawmakers. That condemnation, in turn, was denounced by Kondwani Nankuluma of the Legal Affairs committee of Malawi’s Parliament:

“We are following our laws and proceeding with the case for the two in the courts. They have no part in this business as we have laws and we are following it. Why do they keep pestering us to release the two?” he said. reports that Malawi’s Parliament will begin deliberation into adding harsher punishments to the country’s anti-homosexuality law. Malawi’s current law carries a maximum sentence of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

Anti-Gay Abuse Heaped on Malawi Couple During Trial

Jim Burroway

January 15th, 2010
Stephen Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in the dock at their trial.

Stephen Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in the dock at their trial.

The trial against Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who were arrested by Malawi police last month following a traditional engagement ceremony in Blantyre, began this week with the prosecutor for South Dickens Mwambazi telling the court that they had a total of seven witness. Four witnesses testified on Monday:

One of the state witnesses was Jean Kamphale, owner of Mankhoma Lodge, where the two suspects had their engagement ceremony.

Kamphale said Chimbalanga confessed to having sex with partner Monjeza to both herself and the police when they picked them on December 28, last year.

“After the media published the story about the two’s engagement, I felt having been deceived by Tionge who for a long time claimed to be a woman.

“He therefore offered to undress so that we could prove the truth of his claims. But after some resistance to show us his genitals, Tionge finally allowed Nyazayi Piringu, Flony Frank and I to see his organ, which to our surprise and contrary to his claims that it was feminine, was male in nature,” Kamphale said.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga identifies as a woman.

The other three witnesses on Monday denied having evidence that the accused had sex before they were arrested. Evidence of sexual penetration is required under Malawi law for conviction. Monjeza and Chimbalanga were reportedly threatened with humiliating physical examinations by the prosecutor’s office. There are also charges that the two have been beaten by police and fellow prisoners. They were denied bail.

In more troubling news, the trial was expected to resume on Wednesday to hear testimony from the last three witnesses, but Chief Resident magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa adjourned the case because, according to the Nyasa Times, Tiwonge was sick, providing no more details. But The Times of London more fully describes this outrageous and humiliating development:

Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who has spent more than a week in one of the country’s most congested prisons, vomited and stumbled onto the dusty court floor just before the case was due to start.

As he lay on the ground he was jeered by members of the public who had crowded in to watch what has become a cause célèbre and a test case for gay rights in the African nation.

“Auntie Tiwo ali ndi mimba” — or “Auntie Tiwo is pregnant” — people said.

With no one to assist him, Mr Chimbalanga, 20, dressed with a traditional dotted red and yellow striped wrapper around his waist and a red top, finally managed to stand and was allowed to leave to clean himself up.

A few minutes later he re-emerged with a mop and a pail to clean the vomit from the court floor — a chore that women in Africa typically have to perform even when they are sick.

The two face fourteen years imprisonment if they are convicted.

Malawi Couple Denied Bail

Jim Burroway

January 5th, 2010
Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R)

Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R)

The situation has gone from bad to worse for the two Malawians who were arrested on December 28 for homosexuality after holding a traditional engagement ceremony two days earlier. Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who identifies as a woman, and Steven Monjeza have pleaded not guilty to charges of “unnatural practices” and gross indecency, which carries a fourteen year prison sentence in Malawi. The two have reportedly suffered “appalling” conditions in prison, where they are being threatened with humiliating medical examinations to try to determine whether they have had sex. They also say they have been beaten by police and fellow prisoners.

Despite that, Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa denied them bail yesterday, saying that the were at risk of mob violence if they were released. The couple’s lawyers rejected that claim. They are expected to go to trial on January 15.

In related news, an administrator for the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), a Malawian human rights group, was arrested on charges that the group’s HIV education materials are “pornographic.” Advocates believe the arrest was in retaliation for CEDEP’s public support for Chimbalanga and Monjeza.

Malawi Couple Pleads Not Guilty

Jim Burroway

December 30th, 2009

According to the BBC, the male couple who were arrested for participating in a symbolic traditional engagement ceremony have appeared in court to plead not guilty and ask for bail.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza appeared in court at Blatyre, Malawi’s largest city, on Monday. The BBC reports the court room was packed with large crowds of onlookers. Some people congratulated them but other shouted insults. Also:

Prosecutors say they will send the pair to hospital to prove they have had sex together.

…Mr Monjeza, 26, hinted that he may consider calling off the proposed wedding, as he was sent back to prison.”I am sad I am going back to Chichiri Prison,” he said. “The condition are terrible there. People are exaggerating this thing. I may just as well dissolve this marriage.”Mr Chimbalanga, 20, dressed in women’s clothes, refused to speak to journalists, beyond accusing them of writing “stupid” things.

Homosexuality in Malawi carries a maximum sentence of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

Malawi Couple Arrested, Face 14 Years Imprisonment

Jim Burroway

December 29th, 2009
Malawi couple

Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R) married in Malawi last Saturday

Last weekend, two Malawian men became the first same-sex couple to marry in that country. Today, we learn that they have been arrested for “public indecency” because of their wedding.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were married in a symbolic, traditional wedding engagement ceremony on Saturday. They were arrested on Monday night at their home and charged with “gross public indecency because the practice is against the law,” according to police spokesman, Dave Chingwalu.

Homosexuality carries a maximum prison sentence of fourteen years in Malawi. The police spokesman said that the couple will likely face more charges as the investigation continues.

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