Malawian authorities 'vindictive' in splitting jailed gay couple

By staff writers
May 27, 2010

Human rights advocates have condemned as "cruel and vindictive" the the decision by the Malawian authorities to to split up jailed couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.

The two-men have been convicted and jailed for 14 years imprisonment with hard labour after they announced their engagement and life-partnership as a same-sex couple.

The verdict in Malawi has caused outrage around the world, and those close to the two men say the latest move is an attempt to cause them psychological distress and heartache.

"Steven has been transferred this week to Zomba prison, separating him from his partner, Tiwonge," reports the London-based campaigner Peter Tatchell of the LGBTI human rights group OutRage!, who has been assisting and supporting the couple since their arrest on homosexuality charges in December 2009.

He continued: "Previously, the couple were jailed together in Chichiri prison, where Tiwonge remains. Although held in separate cells, in Chichiri they were able to see each other briefly from time to time.

"Now they will have no contact at all. I fear that this separation may have an adverse impact on Steven's mental and physical well-being. He was seriously ill for a month and is still not fully well. His isolation from Tiwonge is likely to be a severe blow to his morale. It could cause his health to relapse."

Last weekend, days after they were sentenced to 14 years hard labour on charges of homosexuality, reports from inside Chichiri prison said that both Tiwonge and Steven were cheerful and in good spirits. Despite their harsh sentence, they seemed unbowed and determined to carry on their fight for justice.

Tatchell added: "Anecdotal reports suggest that most Malawians think the 14-year jail sentence is too harsh. Even many people who disagree with homosexuality seem to believe it is excessive and disproportionate. Some armed robbers, child sex abusers, rapists and killers get lighter sentences.

"Lawyers for Steven and Tiwonge say their appeal may be heard around the end of June. They suggest that Steven might be returned to Chichiri prison once the appeal process begins, which could be in about four weeks or so.

"The couple's lawyers are optimistic that on appeal to the higher courts the 14 year sentence will be reduced or annulled.

"I hope they are right but I am sceptical, given that the High Court refused to give Steven and Tiwonge bail and refused to rule that their prosecution was unconstitutional. My fear is that the appeal court may reduce the jail term but not revoke it," said Mr Tatchell.


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