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Posts for March, 2010

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.

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.

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.

AfricaNews.com 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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