14 year prison sentence for Malawi gay couple is 'brutal'

14 year prison sentence for Malawi gay couple is 'brutal'

By staff writers
20 May 2010

Human rights advocates have reacted with revulsion at the decision of a Malawian court to imprison Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga for being a same-sex couple.

The men were convicted on 18 May 2010, but the sentence was handed down today in Blantyre.

"This is an appalling, vindictive and brutal sentence, which tramples on Malawi's constitution, violates personal privacy and reverses the country's commitment to human rights," said campaigner Peter Tatchell in response.

"Steven and Tiwonge love each other and have harmed no one. Yet they get a sentence more severe than some rapists, armed robbers and killers.

"With so much hatred and violence in Malawi, it is sick that the court has jailed these two men for loving and caring for each other.

"The sentence echoes the era of dictatorship under President Hastings Banda, when personal prejudices determined law enforcement, and when individual rights were crushed and dissenters persecuted," said the London-based human rights activist.

In the 1970s and 80s, Mr Tatchell supported the democracy movement in Malawi and campaigned for the release of the country's political prisoners.

"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."

Prior to the verdict, the couple had issued a message from prison, asserting their love for each other and thanking their many supporters worldwide.

"I love Steven so much,” said Chimbalanga, “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."

Monjeza added that whatever happened, he would “never stop loving Tiwonge”.

"We are thankful for the people who have rallied behind us during this difficult time,” added Chimbalanga, “We are grateful to the people who visit and support us, which really makes us feel to be members of a human family”.

[Ekk/3]

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