News / Africa

    Malawi Court Keeps Same-Sex Couple in Jail, Pending Verdict

    Multimedia

    Audio
    • Interview with Malawi Daily Times Reporter Watipaso Mzungu

    A high court judge’s denial of bail to Malawi’s first openly gay couple as their trial in Blantyre enters its final phase continues to draw international attention from gay rights advocates.  Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, and the couple, Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, who staged a traditional wedding ceremony in December, could face up to 14 years in jail if convicted. 

    Malawi Court Keeps Same-Sex Couple in Jail, Pending Verdict
    Malawi Court Keeps Same-Sex Couple in Jail, Pending Verdict
     

      
    The case has drawn condemnation from 34 British MP’s, and Scottish parliamentarians.  Amnesty International has demanded the couple’s unconditional release.  But journalist Watipaso Mzungu, who is covering the trial for the Daily Times newspaper, says that the international criticism has been counterproductive.
     

    President Bingu Wa Mutharika (right), who was sworn in as Malawi's chief executive, was elected Chairman of the African Union on Sunday, 31 January 2010
    President Bingu Wa Mutharika (right), who was sworn in as Malawi's chief executive, was elected Chairman of the African Union on Sunday, 31 January 2010

      
    “Malawi has its own values and structures, which should be respected.  So we don’t necessarily expect MPs from Britain or anywhere else to dictate to Malawi on what they should do,” he said.
       
    Mzungu contends that strongly rooted nationwide opposition to same-sex weddings is not easily abandoned, even in a democracy like Malawi.
       
    “Almost every religion is against homosexuality, so it’s just a very small minority group that wants homosexuality to be passed or like to accept homosexuality in Malawi.  But almost everybody is against homosexuality,” he notes.
       
    The two defendants have three attorneys, backing from international gay rights organizers and at least three Malawian NGO’s, including the Centre for Development of People (CEDEP).  But Mzungu says his travels across the country register very little public support for legislation to decriminalize the offense.
       
    “Just last week on Friday, I was in Mwanza, a certain district in the southern region again.  I was talking to different people, including the traditional leaders, the common people.  I was asking them if maybe they would like a homosexuality law to be passed in the constitution of Malawi.  But they seem to be against that law.  They don’t want Malawi to allow homosexuality,” he said.
     

    Malawi Court Keeps Same-Sex Couple in Jail, Pending Verdict
    Malawi Court Keeps Same-Sex Couple in Jail, Pending Verdict

      
    CEDEP itself has been hard-pressed by government and religious leaders of Malawi’s many religious denominations, which include Christians, Moslems, and Hindus during the trial.  A political controversy arose last month over whether the organization’s director Gift Trapence and three human rights defenders were ordered into police custody for playing a role in defense of the same-sex defendants.
       
    Malawi police deny the activists were arrested.  Mzungu explains one incident in early January which the British rights defender Outrage! claims involved an arrest on trumped up charges of pornography contained in the safe-sex HIV educational materials that were being distributed by CEDEP.
       
    “The police spokesperson for the southern region in Malawi told me that it is true that the police went to the office of CEDEP, but they didn’t arrest anybody apart from just impounding or confiscating some materials which were pornographic, but they didn’t arrest anybody,” he reports.
       
    Rights groups contend the prosecution of the newlywed couple runs contrary to section 20 of the Malawi constitution, which outlaws discrimination, and contravenes equal treatment tenets of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which the Lilongwe government has endorsed.  However, reporter Mzungu says that the international criticism has succeeded in generating a backlash push for Malawi to enact even tougher penalties for those convicted of illicit homosexuality.
       
    “On Friday, the members of parliament were meeting in Lilongwe where one of the members of parliament criticized the NGO’s -- most local and international NGO’s, which are pushing the members of parliament to amend the constitution section which talks against homosexuality.  It means that the members of parliament too are not happy with what these two gay people have done in Malawi,” he explains.
       
    Although stiffer penalties could mean longer jail sentences, the Daily Times journalist concedes that a high incidence of homosexuality in Malawi prisons may ultimately deter the harsher fines.
       
    The defendants are next due to appear in court on February 9.  That’s just ten days after the country’s president Bingu Wa Mutharika took over the leadership of the continent-wide African Union.  Watipaso Mzungu says that until now, Mr. Mutharika has been careful to avoid speaking out on the case.
       
    “As of now, the president has said nothing.  But the minister of information and civic education, Honorable Leckford Mwanza Thotho, has always told the media that government will not interfere and will not allow to be pushed around by foreign NGO’s to pass the law to allow homosexuality in Malawi.  That’s the government stand,” he insisted.

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.