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

Pundits Split Over Long-Term US Role in Afghanistan

Security pact remains condition for American presence beyond 2014; deadline criticized More

US Eyes Islamic State Threat

Officials warn that IS could pose a threat to US homeland More

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Moscow says Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory by mistake More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocksi
X
George Putic
August 25, 2014 4:00 PM
How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that was eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports on how one band is bringing Yiddish tango to Los Angeles.
Video

Video Peace Returns to Ferguson as Community Tries to Heal

Thousands of people nationwide are expected to attend funeral services Monday in the U.S. Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri, for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was fatally shot by a white police officer August 9 in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The shooting touched off days of violent demonstrations there, resulting in more than 100 arrests. VOA's Chris Simkins reports from Ferguson where the community is trying to move on after weeks of racial tension.
Video

Video Meeting in Minsk May Hinge on Putin Story

The presidents of Russia and Ukraine are expected to meet face-to-face Tuesday in Minsk, along with European leaders, for talks on the situation in Ukraine. Political analysts say the much welcomed dialogue could help bring an end to months of deadly clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces in the country's southeast. But much depends on the actions of one man, Russian President Vladimir Putin. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Artists Shun Russia's Profanity Law

Russia in July enacted a law threatening fines for publicly displayed profanity in media, films, literature, music and theater. The restriction, the toughest since the Soviet era, aims to protect the Russian language and culture and has been welcomed by those who say cursing is getting out of control. But many artists reject the move as a patronizing and ineffective act of censorship in line with a string of conservative morality laws. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video British Fighters on Frontline of ISIS Information War

Security services are racing to identify the Islamic State militant who beheaded U.S. journalist James Foley in Syria. The murderer spoke English on camera with a British accent. It’s estimated that several hundred British citizens are fighting for the Islamic State, also called ISIL or ISIS, alongside thousands of other foreign jihadists. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from the center of the investigation in London.

AppleAndroid