Monday, January 4, 2010

Malawian gays denied bail, ridiculed in court, outside

The Blantyre Magistrates Court on Monday refused to grant Malawian gays arrested after staging the country’s first public same-sex engagement bail, bowing to prosecutors demands to give the state more powers to carry out medical examinations, among other factors.
First Grade Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa told crammed court the court wanted to give the state the benefit of the doubt by allowing it 10 more days of investigations, as opposed to the requested 14, allowing prosecutors to carry out a medical examination on Steven Monjeza Soko and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.
State prosecutors say the medical examination is crucial to their circumstantial evidence, but human rights activists have questioned the decision, saying it was tantamount to forcing people to join research initiatives or medical programmes.
Throngs of people sang songs of redicule to Monjeza Soko and Chimbalanga in the court, and the two seemed less at ease. The court was supposed to be their place of refuse and shelter from a highly homophobic society.
Both Malawi Gay Rights Movement (Magrim) Publicity Secretary, Wongani Phiri, and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) executive director Gift Trapeace have expressed concern over the way Malawians are treating the two.
Women poked fun and ridiculed the two when they were boarding a police vehicle, calling them all sorts of names, including ‘mentally-disturbed devils”.
Phiri says Magrim fears that, with people openly opposing the two including within court premises, they may not be subjected to a fair trial.
However, Malawi’s judiciary has a reputation for fairness and good-dealing with suspects, a development that has at times put it at loggerheads with ruling officials.
Monjeza Soko and Chimbalanga’s case has attracted a lot of attention, with people differing in opinions over the prospects of legalizing homosexuality.
Others feel there is no problem with that while the church community has ganged up against such a decision, openly calling for officials to punish the two sternly.


Mawa said...

It's too bad to treat gays badly.

Leonard Phiri, Lilongwe

emerald cocoon said...

These people are brave - far braver than the cowardly sheep who attack them. If this is how we treat two people who love each other what hope is there for the human animal? If we don't start treating each other like brothers and sisters we are not long for this planet. peace, respect and dignity to Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza...

Acacia said...

a functional judiciary should be able to handle controversial cases... lobbying for constitutional change should happen in forums more appropriate than outside the courtroom.

Border Jumpers said...

Just fyi -- we wrote a column yesterday about the battle for gay rights in Uganda and Malawi on our website Border Jumpers called "Human Rights Battle in Uganda Hits Close to Home" at

Here is an excerpt @

Uganda, like most of the countries in Africa, is full of contradictions.

While everyone we met in Uganda was friendly and helpful, going out of their way to assist us when we needed directions, a Wifi hotspot, or a place to find vegetarian food, the country also has some of the most restrictive laws against human rights on the continent. While we were there, the "Bahati Bill" was introduced in parliament. The Bahati called for life in prison -- and in some case the death penalty -- for people found “guilty” of homosexual activity.

As gay marriage laws are passed around the world, including most recently in Mexico City, it's hard to believe that lawmakers would punish people for being gay or having HIV/AIDS. The Bahati bill also punishes anyone who fails to report a homosexual act committed by others with up to three years in jail, and a prison sentence of up to seven years for anyone who defends the rights of gays and lesbians.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, due to mounting pressure from governments such as the United States, across Europe, and in Canada, said that he opposes the measure, and would attempt to try and soften the bill. According to a recent story in Reuters, “the president has been quoted in local media saying homosexuality is a Western import, joining continental religious leaders who believe it is un-African.” With a national election looming in 2012, politicians seem to be using hatred against gays as a scapegoat for rising corruption and the weakening of civil liberties and freedom of the press.

Yet, even the possibility that a watered-down version of the proposed law could be passed, is an alarming sign of a dangerous trend of prejudice all over Africa. In Blantyre, Malawi, for example, a gay couple was arrested last week after having a traditional engagement ceremony. Homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in jail in Malawi
However, human rights advocates continue to fight. In Latin America, they hope that the success of legalized marriage in Mexico City will spread to Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and other places. Uruguay permits gay parents to adopt and Columbia grants social security rights to same sex couples.

In the United States, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender rights is one of the most import civil and human rights battles we currently face. Despite recent setbacks in California, New York, and Maine -- recent success in places like Iowa, DC, and New Hampshire -- means that during next decade the battlefield for LGBT rights is not only in Africa but also right here at home.

All our best, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack