by Rex Wockner
International News Briefs
The gay couple in Blantyre, Malawi, who were jailed in December after they staged a public engagement ceremony will face a full trial, a judge decided March 22.
Following their court appearance, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were returned to prison to await the April trial. They face up to 14 years behind bars if found guilty of illegal carnal knowledge and acts of gross indecency with another male person.
“This ruling is the most recent in a line of deeply troubling decisions and actions by the Malawian authorities in this case, including the decision to deny bail to Steven and Tiwonge, claiming that their continued incarceration is for their own safety,” said Chivuli Ukwimi of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s Southern Africa Program.
“The arrests, prolonged and arbitrary pre-trial detention, and the subsequent mistreatment of Tiwonge and Steven while incarcerated – including being subjected to forced anal examinations to ‘confirm’ sodomy charges – violate their rights under the Malawian constitution,” IGLHRC said.
In London on March 22, African and British activists protested the couple’s arrest and incarceration outside the headquarters of the Commonwealth.
“I urge my president and government to intervene to release Steven and Tiwonge,” said gay Malawian Edi Phiri. “These two men don’t deserve the way they are suffering in jail. The delay in the trial and the postponed verdict is a sign that the government and judiciary are split.”
Protest co-organizer Peter Tatchell said Monjeza and Chimbalanga are encouraging international protests.
“This protest was organized in response to an appeal for help from the jailed men,” the veteran gay activist said. “From their prison cell in Malawi, Steven and Tiwonge sent a message to me in London urging international pressure to secure their release.”
Sixty-seven British members of Parliament have signed a House of Commons early-day motion condemning Monjeza’s and Chimbalanga’s arrests and prosecution.
Amnesty International has adopted the couple as prisoners of conscience.