CEDEP's Queer Malawi in PlusNews.org

JOHANNESBURG, 11 May 2011 (PlusNews) - Africa is generally not a safe place to have a same-sex relationship - you can be shunned by society, beaten up, thrown in jail, or worse. In Malawi you can get 14 years in prison with hard labour.

In a bold move, Malawi’s Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) and South Africa’s Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) have collected the stories of 12 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) women and men and published them in a book, Queer Malawi...

To read the entire article, click here.

CEDEP statement in Weekend Nation

Excerpted from 'Homosexuals deserve to die' article, Weekend Nation, Friday 29 April 2011.

…a statement signed by Undule Mwakasungula of CHRR, Rev MacDonald Sembereka of Manerela, and Gift Trapense of CEDEP reads:

“The faith community must also remember that they have the duty to promote love and tolerance among people of different religions, cultures, and beliefs.

Religious leaders of groups should not be the first to cast the stone of hate and discrimination against minority groups. We are all children of God, regardless of our personal circumstance or differences,” reads the statement.

The three rights activists also challenged government and Chilenje that Malawi does recognize same sex relationships.

“We would like to challenge the government that their empty political rhetoric that same sex relations are inexistent in Malawi is contrary to what their principles and technocrats state.

Firstly; we would like to challenge government that the issue of sexual minorities is not nes to them as there is documented evidence the Malawi Government has previously participated on this issue at the United Nations level,” the statement reads.

The activists also say President Bingu we Mutharika’s pardon of the same sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza was a sign of his realisation of the constitutional and international human rights law errors surrounding such conviction.

“It is, therefore, hypocritical for the government to pretend that the issue of sexual minorities is not worth comprehensive approach,” the statement reads.

To read the entire article, click here.

HRCC, CEDEP, Tenthani recognized for 2010 democracy honor
By Nyasa Times
Published: December 30, 2010

The list of Nyasa Times inaugural Democracy and Human Rights Awards includes the Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), journalist Raphael Tenthani, Roman Catholic Church and CCAP Livingstonia Synod.

The online news website managing director Edgar Chibaka said they recognized HRCC for their continued work in defending and campaigning for human rights.

Undule Mwakasungura the chairperson of HRCC, the grouping of 91 nongovernmental and civil society organisations working in the promotion, protection of human rights and good governance in Malawi, said his organisation welcomed the Nyasa Times accolade.

“It is inspiring to receive the award from the Nyasa Times. It is nice that there other people out there who appreciate and recognize what we are doing,” Mwakasungura said in a statement.

Tenthani a seasoned free lance journalist who writes for international news organisations such as the BBC, Associated Press  and Pan African News Agency has been recognized for his bravery through his writing against the system which is allergic to criticism.

Ruling DPP and presidential spokesperson Dr. Hetherwick Ntaba, is on record attacking Tenthani, the Muckraking on Sunday columnist in Sunday Times saying he has been “paid” to tarnish the image of the government and President Bingu wa Mutharika. He described Tenthani’s popular column as a product of “dishonest journalism.”

Nyasa Times said: “Despite government attack and desperate attempts to discredit the professional journalist, Tenthani continues to write without fear or favour. He deserves ‘Freedom of expression 2010’ as part of the Democracy and Human Rights Awards.”

The journalist when contacted by Nyasa Times said he was “thrilled” with the recognition.

“I’m honoured to be included on the list,” said Tenthani who also reports for Maravi Post, an online publication.

Also recognized for the 2010 awards included the nine Roman Catholic bishops for their popular pastoral letter, ‘Reading the Signs of Time’ which rebuked the government of Mutharika on good governance issues.

The CCAP Livingstonia Synod has also been recognized for their continued fight for the people by denouncing the education quota system which it deemed “genocide” against people in the northern region.

The list included Baptist Convection of Malawi, Father Michael Mtambo of Anglican, and politician Harry Mkandawire.

Mkandawire while serving as DPP director of political affairs wrote a virulent letter to President Mutharika criticizing him on several governance issues. He was expelled from the party for his criticism.

Emma Kaliya, chairperson of the NGO-Gender Network has also been recognized for her brevity to speak out despite being lured with government appointment in National Advisory Council.

Also honoured has been Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) – a local NGO that looks after the interests of minority groups like prisoners, sexual minorities and other marginalized groups.

CEDEP has been honoured for its work to address the needs and challenges of minority groups – such as gays, lesbians and sex workers – in Malawi, in the context of human rights, health and social development.

As a result of their advocacy to ensure that needs of sexual minorities are addressed in national HIV programming, men who have sex with men have for the first time been included in the in the National HIV Prevention Strategy.

In 2010, CEDEP led by its boss Gift Trapence, was instrumental in successfully mobilising international and regional support for the release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, arrested in Blantyre on December 28 2009, on charges of gross indecency and unnatural acts after they engaged in a same-sex civil union.

They were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour, but received a Presidential pardon following pressure from regional and international bodies and the United Nations.—(Reporting by Thom Chiumia, Nyasa Times)

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CEDEP scoops regional award!

By Nyasa Times
Published: November 27, 2010

Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) – a local NGO that looks after the interests of minority groups like prisoners, sexual minorities  and other marginalized groups– has been decorated with a regional HIV and Human Rights Award, Nyasa Times has learnt.

CEDEP) was awarded the 2010 AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) HIV, TB and Human Rights award at a ceremony hosted at Lakes Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa.

ARASA is a partnership of over 50   civil society organisations working together to promote a human rights based response to HIV and TB in the SADC region.

“This award will rejuvenate the morale of the organisation and our target groups. It is certain to raise the profile of our organisation and raise the awareness of the rights and access to health issues affecting minority groups in Malawi,” said Wiseman Chibwezo, Programmes Manager of CEDEP.

CEDEP works to address the needs and challenges of minority groups – such as gays , lesbians and sex workers – in Malawi, in the context of human rights, health and social development.

As a result of their advocacy to ensure that needs of sexual minorities are addressed in national HIV programming, men who have sex with men have for the first time been included in the in the National HIV Prevention Strategy and Action Plan and as a key target group in the country Round 10 proposal to the Global Fund to Fight Tuberculosis, Aids and Malaria (GFTAM).

In 2010, CEDEP  led by its boss Gift Trapence, was instrumental in successfully mobilising international and regional support for the release of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, arrested in Blantyre on December 28 2009, on charges of gross indecency and unnatural acts after they engaged in a same-sex civil union.

They were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour, but received a Presidential pardon following pressure from regional and international bodies, including ARASA and the United Nations.

“We hope that the recognition of our work through winning this award will inspire many organizations locally and within the region to enhance their human rights activities regardless of challenging political climates,” Chibwezo said.

CEDEP has openly tackled issues that are often considered a taboo, including defending the rights of sex workers in Malawi.

For the past year, CEDEP has met and gone through very difficult challenges and Trapence is still considered a pariah at in conservative Malawi because of his work on behalf sexual minorities.

“The support that we rendered to the same sex couple during their arrest, prosecution and sentencing posed a very great challenge to the continued operations of the organisation and also to the lives of the staff,” said Chibwezo.

By continuing to speak out against the arrest of the gay couple and maintaining contact with the international community, the organisation put itself at risk. The government of Malawi constantly accused CEDEP of pushing a foreign agenda, threatening to close the organisation and arrest its officers.

Taking the issues forward, CEDEP has continued to engage on this issue by establishing a multi-stakeholder working group that will facilitate wider discussion and action on protecting the rights of most at risk populations, including sex workers and sexual minorities and advocating for the removal of laws and policies that act as barriers to access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services in Malawi.

“We think it is critical to recognise the work of partners such as CEDEP, who have displayed outstanding commitment to the protection of human rights in repressive climates, sometimes risking their lives and livelihoods to stand in defence of the basic human rights of people living with and vulnerable to HIV and TB,” explained Michaela Clayton, Director of ARASA.

High levels of homophobia against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (LGBTI), make it extremely difficult for them to access prevention, treatment and care services and thus to realise their right to health.

The award was established in 2007 to recognize and support organizations across the Southern African region who are doing groundbreaking work on human rights, often in extremely challenging political climates.

The award ceremony was held at the conclusion of ARASA’s Annual Partnership Forum, held from 24 to 25 November to provide an opportunity for various civil society organisations to review the status of HIV, TB and human-rights in the region and identify emerging human rights challenges for targeted responses in the next year. It was attended by 45 ARASA’s partners from the 15 countries in the SADC region.—(Reporting by Thom Chiumia, Nyasa Times)


Maravi Post: Malawi gay man Tiwonge seeks asylum in Canada (with assistance from CEDEP)

Thursday, 30 September 2010 17:48
Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
 
BLANTYRE--One of the two first Malawians to be openly gay and whose arrest over Christmas last year and subsequent five-month incarceration drew worldwide condemnation is leaving for Canada where he has sought asylum, a family member and a human rights activist have confirmed. 
"Yes, Tiwonge will be going to Canada to settle," Maxwell Manda, a cousin of Tiwonge Chimbalanga's, told Maravipost.com in an exclusive interview Thursday. "He is just finalising travel documents."
 
Manda said Chimbalanga, or Aunt Tiwo, who currently ekes out a living by doing odd jobs, will find a career in his adopted country.
 
"Some people will host him for some three years then after that he will find what to do," he said. "We have advised him not to mess this opportunity."
 
Gift Trapence, whose Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) - a local NGO that looks after the interest of minority groups like gays, lesbians and sex workers - worked very hard to win the freedom of the two men, also confirmed Chimbalanga is Canada-bound.
 
"I don't have much details as of now, may be by next week, but what I know is that his passport is ready, he is just waiting to be issued with a visa for Canada," he told Maravipost.com Thursday.
 
Chimbalanga, 20, and his now-estranged 26-year-old gay beau Steven Monjeza, were arrested on December 27 last year after  performing a public engagement ceremony at a lodge the former was working on the outskirts of Blantyre, Malawi’s business hub.
 
The couple’s arrest turned them into poster boys for persecution of homosexuals on the African continent. The couple quickly became an instant media sensation as the world media feasted on any fine detail of their case.
 
A Blantyre magistrate convicted the two on buggery and gross indecency charges and handed them what he famously called a "scary" 14-year sentence, the maximum both charges could attract under Malawi laws.
 
CEDEP, alongside other local and international human rights organisations like the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRRR) and Outrage! of leading London-based gay rights activist Peter Tatchel, campaigned for the release of the couple by lobbying Malawi's donors and holding demonstrations.
 
The government of the United States of America, Norway and Great Britain, among others, and multi-laterals like the European Union and the African Development Bank (ADB) urged Malawi to tread cautiously on the issue, saying the couple human rights were violated. They warned that Malawi's image may be tainted abroad because of its handling of the issue.
 
However, for five months - amid the growing pressure on his administration - Pres Bingu wa Mutharika held out, calling the "acts of those two boys in Blantyre" as alien and unacceptable. But United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon prevailed on Mutharika who pardoned the couple. 
After their release Chimbalanga remained unrepentant saying he would rather quit Malawi and live in a country where his status would be acceptable. But his partner, Monjeza, immediately renounced his gay status. He severed ties with Chimbalanga and  announced he had got himself a female lover, 24-year-old Blantyre woman Dorothy Gulo.
 
But while Chimbalanga's star seems to be shinning even brighter, Monjeza has fallen on hard times. His fairy-tale affair with Gulo ended in disappointment after she walked out on him. Adding salt to injury, a Blantyre court a fortnight  ago slapped him with a suspended sentence after being convicted of stealing a cell phone belong to a drinking mate.--maravipostMalawi gay man Tiwonge seeks asylum in Canada
Thursday, 30 September 2010 17:48
Written by RAPHAEL TENTHANI
 
BLANTYRE--One of the two first Malawians to be openly gay and whose arrest over Christmas last year and subsequent five-month incarceration drew worldwide condemnation is leaving for Canada where he has sought asylum, a family member and a human rights activist have confirmed. 
"Yes, Tiwonge will be going to Canada to settle," Maxwell Manda, a cousin of Tiwonge Chimbalanga's, told Maravipost.com in an exclusive interview Thursday. "He is just finalising travel documents."
 
Manda said Chimbalanga, or Aunt Tiwo, who currently ekes out a living by doing odd jobs, will find a career in his adopted country.
 
"Some people will host him for some three years then after that he will find what to do," he said. "We have advised him not to mess this opportunity."
 
Gift Trapence, whose Centre for Development of People (CEDEP) - a local NGO that looks after the interest of minority groups like gays, lesbians and sex workers - worked very hard to win the freedom of the two men, also confirmed Chimbalanga is Canada-bound.
 
"I don't have much details as of now, may be by next week, but what I know is that his passport is ready, he is just waiting to be issued with a visa for Canada," he told Maravipost.com Thursday.
 
Chimbalanga, 20, and his now-estranged 26-year-old gay beau Steven Monjeza, were arrested on December 27 last year after  performing a public engagement ceremony at a lodge the former was working on the outskirts of Blantyre, Malawi’s business hub.
 
The couple’s arrest turned them into poster boys for persecution of homosexuals on the African continent. The couple quickly became an instant media sensation as the world media feasted on any fine detail of their case.
 
A Blantyre magistrate convicted the two on buggery and gross indecency charges and handed them what he famously called a "scary" 14-year sentence, the maximum both charges could attract under Malawi laws.
 
CEDEP, alongside other local and international human rights organisations like the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRRR) and Outrage! of leading London-based gay rights activist Peter Tatchel, campaigned for the release of the couple by lobbying Malawi's donors and holding demonstrations.
 
The government of the United States of America, Norway and Great Britain, among others, and multi-laterals like the European Union and the African Development Bank (ADB) urged Malawi to tread cautiously on the issue, saying the couple human rights were violated. They warned that Malawi's image may be tainted abroad because of its handling of the issue.
 
However, for five months - amid the growing pressure on his administration - Pres Bingu wa Mutharika held out, calling the "acts of those two boys in Blantyre" as alien and unacceptable. But United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon prevailed on Mutharika who pardoned the couple. 
After their release Chimbalanga remained unrepentant saying he would rather quit Malawi and live in a country where his status would be acceptable. But his partner, Monjeza, immediately renounced his gay status. He severed ties with Chimbalanga and  announced he had got himself a female lover, 24-year-old Blantyre woman Dorothy Gulo.
 
But while Chimbalanga's star seems to be shinning even brighter, Monjeza has fallen on hard times. His fairy-tale affair with Gulo ended in disappointment after she walked out on him. Adding salt to injury, a Blantyre court a fortnight  ago slapped him with a suspended sentence after being convicted of stealing a cell phone belong to a drinking mate.--maravipost

Picking Up The Pieces In Malawi: A profile on CEDEP

by Mark Canavera humanitarian aid worker, activist, writer
The Huffington Post: June 3, 2010 09:52 AM
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-canavera/picking-up-the-pieces-in_b_596371.html


Human rights activists plot the path forward in the wake of the recent same-sex court case.


Before the outsized international human rights outcry. Before the world had even heard of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. Before their chinkhoswe ceremony - akin to an engagement ceremony although more complex - landed these two in prison, then convicted for "indecent practices between males," and finally sentenced to 14 years of hard labor. Before the President of Malawi reluctantly pardoned the convicted parties. Before all of this, activists were acting up in Malawi.

"Our organization was born out of the need to fill major gaps in HIV service delivery," explains Gift Trapence, the director of the Lilongwe-based Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), a human rights organization working on behalf of at-risk minority groups, including people in same-sex relationships, sex workers, and prisoners. When Monjeza and Chimbalanga were arrested in December, this relatively young organization, founded only in late 2005, was propelled to the forefront of a movement whose butterfly wing flaps would create maelstroms around the world. "Steven and Tiwonge's case has brought a lot of attention," modestly admits Trapence, whose organization has been balancing the pressures of high-level international advocacy with their need to ensure ongoing services to its target populations of marginalized individuals.

In addition to overseeing Monjeza and Chimbalanga's legal defense strategy, CEDEP was one of the few organizations willing to visit the two in prison to ensure their wellbeing. Dunker Kamba, CEDEP's administrator, traveled over 400 miles round-trip each week - and sometimes twice a week - for prison visits despite never having met the two prior to their arrest. "The first week after their arrest, it was difficult to visit them because the situation was hot," explains Kamba. "People were thinking, 'Who is the kind of person who would like to meet with these people?,' and the prison guards just told me that they weren't there." Eventually, however, Kamba was able to visit Monjeza and Chimbalanga, bringing them food, basic toiletries, and most importantly, he believes, hope and encouragement.

Before this headline case upended their activities, CEDEP was busy steadily building a portfolio of cutting-edge work for sexual minorities. The organization laid the groundwork for its HIV-prevention activities with a groundbreaking 2006 study on the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of Malawi's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) populations despite the overwhelmingly hidden nature of these groups and the complication that the concept of LGBT has little cultural currency in the country. In 2008, CEDEP contributed to another landmark piece of research on men who have sex with men, or MSM (an acronym common in HIV circles that seeks to emphasize behavior rather than identity), in Malawi. They discovered that the HIV rate in the MSM population was a jaw-dropping 21.4 percent, nearly double the prevalence rate of the general adult population. Over 95 percent of these men were unaware of their status.

CEDEP has used the findings from these pieces of research to raise awareness with men who have sex with men, running a resource center that provides these men with accurate prevention information. This work is not without its dangers, however. Earlier this year, two CEDEP staff members were arrested and briefly detained for allegedly distributing pornography. The pornography in question? HIV-prevention pamphlets tailored to men having sex with men.

Despite the risks, however, CEDEP has enjoyed some noteworthy successes, not the least of which is the recent pardon and release of Mojeza and Chambalanga. Another small victory was the inclusion of MSM as a target group in Malawi's recently developed national HIV prevention strategy, running through 2013. Also, Dr. Mary Shawa, the secretary for nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the president's office, expressed her support for a human rights approach to HIV-prevention that reached out to men in same-sex relationships following her attendance at a CEDEP-supported conference on HIV prevention with at-risk groups. Dr. Shawa was the first high-level government official to take such a stance and sparked large-scale debate.

That debate is still raging, of course, and CEDEP's battle remains steeply uphill. Despite the president's pardon, the effects of Monjeza and Chamblanga's case are likely to linger, driving the MSM community in Malawi even further underground. Indeed, in granting his pardon, President Bingu wa Mutharika made it clear that he was doing so only under international pressure, reiterating the illegality of Monjeza and Chambalanga's actions and his unhappiness with granting the pardon. "I do not agree with this," he said, adding, "these two... were wrong - totally wrong." Likewise, public attitudes remain firmly opposed to same-sex relationships. After the sentencing, for examples, some crowd members outside the courthouse jeered for harsher sentences. Christian women representing a number of churches likewise recently joined hands to pray against "outbreaks of measles [and] homosexuality."

Internal to the organization, challenges face CEDEP as well. One of these is the inclusion of women who have same-sex relationships in its activities, a group that it has not currently reached. Monica Mbaru, the Africa regional coordinator for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, one of CEDEP's key partners, indicates that lesbian women in Malawi may face issues specific to women - like so-called "corrective rape" - that are not yet being addressed. "Although we cannot yet ascertain the scale of the problem," says Mbaru, "we know from some lesbian women in Malawi that they are subjected to corrective rape or other violence within their families. Their families believe that they have simply not found a proper man to induct them into having sex, so they start making advances, and these women close up and end up dying in their own spaces."

After months of the manic activity that accompanied Monjeza and Chambalanga's court case, CEDEP is taking a deep breath and taking stock. "Since December [when the two were arrested], we have been running up and down," says Trapence, "and of course we are proud of what we have achieved," noting that the contributions of the international human rights community was crucial in obtaining the presidential pardon. CEDEP, however, is keeping its eyes firmly on its goal of human rights for LGBT communities in Malawi. The organization has developed a three-year strategy that focuses on training, capacity building, and advocacy. CEDEP hopes to help media outlets, especially radio and television, to better cover LGBT issues, and they want to engage religious groups and parliamentarians on the issue as well. Its leaders also hope to ensure that LGBT rights are included in the activities of other human rights organizations and campaigns, building a stronger coalition. To that end, CEDEP has already put together a working group comprised of ten like-minded actors.

Continuing this work will require fortitude, a quality that CEDEP's team members have demonstrated in spades. "I'm doing this work out of the human rights heart that I have," explains Kamba. "Human rights are universal. I will always say that, even if they put me in jail."

This article is the first in a series profiling organizations and individuals in sub-Saharan Africa promoting the rights of sexual minorities. The next article in the series will feature the coalition of actors working together in Uganda. This article does not imply the sexual orientation or gender identity of any person mentioned herein.



  Follow Mark Canavera on Twitter: www.twitter.com/canavera

Gay Couple Convicted in Malawi

"As much as I expected a guilty verdict, I still hoped for a miracle." - Dunker Kamba, CEDEP

By BARRY BEARAK

Published: May 18, 2010
 JOHANNESBURG — A gay couple in Malawi were found guilty on Tuesday of unnatural acts and gross indecency, the consequence of their holding an engagement ceremony in an insular nation where homosexuality is largely seen as nonexistent or something that must be suppressed.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 33, and Steven Monjeza, 26, face up to 14 years in prison. A magistrate said he would sentence the men on Thursday.

The case
has drawn worldwide attention as another example of the broad anti-gay sentiment in Africa. A law recently proposed in Uganda calling for homosexuals to be executed in some cases stirred so much ire in the West that a presidential committee recommended withdrawing it from Parliament.

Malawi, a deeply impoverished, landlocked nation of 14 million, has also received international condemnation for prosecuting the two gay men. But most of its leaders — political and religious — have reacted with defiance. Last month, President Bingu wa Mutharika was quoted as calling homosexuality “evil and bad before the eyes of God” and an act “we Malawians just do not do.”

Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa, in delivering Tuesday’s judgment in a small courtroom in Blantyre, the country’s commercial capital, was similarly stern. He referred to the crime as “buggery,” using language from when Malawi was a British colony and the current law was written.

He found both men guilty of “carnal knowledge” that was “against the order of nature.” He said the two had been “living together as husband and wife,” which “transgresses the Malawian recognized standards of propriety.”

As the judgment was translated for them from English into Chichewa, the defendants barely flinched. Then they were hastened out of a back door, escaping a taunting crowd that already was celebrating their conviction.

The couple have been in jail since Dec. 28, two days after they threw themselves an engagement party — a chinkhoswe in Chichewa — at the Blantyre lodge where Mr. Chimbalanga worked as a cook and housekeeper, referring to himself as “Auntie Tiwo” and insisting that he was a woman.

This public celebration drew dozens of uninvited guests. Some hooted and jeered, and at least one phoned a local newspaper, which published a front-page article about “gay lovebirds” partaking in “the first recorded public activity for homosexuals in the country.”

When arrested, both men gave statements to the police that were later deemed incriminating. Though a doctor testified he could find no evidence that the two had committed sodomy, the magistrate said he relied on the defendants’ own words “that they used to caress each other and had anal sex for five months before going public.”

The verdict was a disappointment to the few Malawians who had openly supported the accused. “As much as I expected a guilty verdict, I still hoped for a miracle,” said Dunker Kamba, the administrator for a group that provides counseling about AIDS.

Undule Mwakasungula, the head of a human rights group, called the verdict another sign of the country’s rejection of what is commonly called “gayism” in Malawi. He said, “We can’t keep denying that we have gay people in Malawi and that they deserve to be treated with understanding and justice.”

Mr. Monjeza grew up on the outskirts of Blantyre. His relatives repeatedly have said they feel disgraced and would never welcome him back.

Mr. Chimbalanga was raised in a small village beyond the huge tea plantations that dominate the Thyolo district, 40 miles from Blantyre. His uncle, the village headman, banished him in his teenage years, but his five siblings remained loyal, thinking their brother “bewitched.” At the end of the proceedings on Tuesday, Mauya Msuku, a lawyer for the defense, said the gay couple suffered from “gender disorientation” and would benefit far more from forgiveness and counseling than “placing them with hard-core criminals.”

Speaking for the prosecution, however, Barbara Mchenga urged the magistrate to “consider the scar this offense will leave on our morality. The two showed no remorse and were somehow proud of what they did.”

Caroline Somanje contributed reporting from Blantyre, Malawi.

Malawi Law Society Advocates for Fair Trial for Monjeza and Chimbalanga

5/10/2010
African Activist
http://www.africanactivist.org/2010/05/malawi-law-society-advocates-for-fair.html

The Malawi Law Society, a professional body of 200 lawyers, have declared that same-sex couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimblanga are not a threat to society and should be viewed as innocent until proven guilty.
A new friend in the form of the Malawi Law Society (MLS) has got the back of jailed Malawi gay couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.

The MLS, a professional body of some 200 lawyers, has made an about turn, from saying the two broke the law to advocating for their freedom.

The society's secretary Jabbar Alide has told Malawi News that Monjeza and Chimbalanga were not a "danger to society".  When the two applied for bail, the Malawi High Court said the two were safer in prison than outside.

But Alide said all accused persons should be deemed innocent unless proven otherwise by the courts. The reasons given when they were refused bail were not "meritable" and not in line with the country’s constitution which was adopted in 1995 and guarantees the rights of all including gays.

The MLS secretary said the courts shouldn’t have ignored the issue of rights of minority groups.On February 22, Malawi's Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo had turned down the request of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga's lawyers for a constitutional review of the charges against them for celebrating their love with a same-sex traditional ceremony.

The trial of Monjeza and Chimbalanga is set to begin on May 18th.
.

Malawi open up for homosexuality as police quiz conference organisers By Nyasa Times Published: April 26, 2010


A conference opened on Monday in Liwonde Township on the inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBTs) in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

The conference which has been organised by the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) together with Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) attracted the delegates from civil society, law experts and faith leaders.

It was opened by CHRR board member retired judge Tulilane Chizumira who urged delegate to have understanding of LGBTs.

"Before we start condemning them we should first accept that these are our fathers, mothers, daughters and sons," said Chizumila a former diplomat.

A law expert at the University of Malawi, Edge Kanyongolo said Malawi can have LGBT unless it is challenged in court.

CHRR executive director Undule Mwakasungura said it was important for the country to discuss LGBT issues considering that research has indicated that Malawi has a growing number of homosexuals.

Mwakasungura said statistics showed that HIV and AIDS prevalence among gays was high.
The issue of homosexuality was exposed in Malawi following the arrest of gay couple, 26-year-old Steven Monjeza and 20-your-old Tiwonge Chimbalanga after they had a marriage ceremony in December.

The pair could face up to 14 years in jail, in line with the country's strict laws on homosexuality.

They have been in custody for almost four months, having twice been denied bail, and have pleaded not guilty to charges of sodomy and indecency.

Speaking for the first time, President Bingu wa Mutharika on Saturday condemned acts of homosexuality saying that is is a strange act in Malawi.
"Malawians are even aping cultures they do not understand. They are saying a man should marry a fellow man. This is evil and bad before the eyes of God. There are certain things we Malawians just do not do," President Mutharika said.

He said the country was being taunted by several ills, among them domestic violence, child abuse, cutting and selling of private parts.

The president has since urged the clergy to help the country by praying hard, so that God rids the country of these ills.

The comments also cast a long shadow over the chances of Chimbalanga and Monjeza getting a fair trial.

Meanwhile, Nyasa Times learnt that security force interrogated organiser of the conference on where they have got the funding and what they want to achieve.

.

MALAWI: Gift Trapence, "People are targeted because of who they are, not what they are doing"

 from www.world-countries.net
Thursday, 8 April 2010


“People have been denying that there are MSM in Africa, in Malawi – that gay people exist.”

LILONGWE, 7 April 2010 (PlusNews) – Gift Trapence is the executive director of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), a human rights organization in Malawi – one of the few working with vulnerable groups like men who have sex with men (MSM), prisoners and sex workers.

CEDEP raised money to pay for the legal defence of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a same-sex couple arrested and charged with sodomy and indecency after their public engagement in late December 2009.

Trapence spoke to IRIN/PlusNews about the vulnerable people in Malawi, and what it is like to be an activist for an unpopular cause.

“We talk about sex workers, prisoners and MSM … their issues are similar, their activities are criminalized in our laws. Our society wants to talk about sex work, but not about the issues.

“From the point of the [sex workers'] experiences as human beings, we have a proposed bill where these women are supposed to go for mandatory testing. These are real human rights issues, and no one has talked about them.

“Prison authorities do not acknowledge that homosexual acts are going on in prison. Apart from that, we have a lot of issues of rape, but still these issues do not come out because [officials] try to suppress them. There is no comprehensive HIV prevention programme in prisons – we cannot distribute condoms.

“I think that maybe in the history of Malawi, no one has come out like [Monjeza and Chimbalanga] – I think government was caught unawares. People have been denying that there are MSM in Africa, in Malawi – that gay people exist. I think that this is proof of the existence of such communities in our country and society.

“It’s a challenge to work under such kind of environment – you don’t have a lot of voices coming to support the issues, but these are real issues. People attack you, call you all sorts of names … but I’m a human rights activist, so that’s part of my job.

As a country, I don’t think we’re going forwards, we’re going backwards. People are targeted because of their identities [who they are], not because of what they are doing.”

Full Court Trial for Gay Couple

RIGHTS-MALAWI: Full Court Trial for Gay Couple
By Claire Ngozo, Inter Press Service, April 7 2010

BLANTYRE, Mar 22, 2010 (IPS) - Two men who married each other in a traditional engagement ceremony will have to undergo trial and face years of imprisonment if found guilty of having a homosexual relationship.

The state, through police prosecutors, brought the two men to court soon after their Boxing Day engagement and asked the magistrate to determine that they are criminals for indulging in a homosexual relationship. A magistrate’s court in Malawi’s main commercial centre, Blantyre, on Mar. 22 ruled against two men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza.

Blantyre chief resident magistrate, Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa, declared that Chimbalanga and Monjeza have a case to answer to. The couple is facing official charges of "gross indecency" and "buggery" for "having carnal knowledge against the order of nature", offences under Malawi's colonial-era penal code.



"In the balance of probability the state has established a prima-facie case against the two as charged," Usiwa Usiwa told the couple. The state has already administered several medical tests on the couple to establish that they were having sexual intercourse as well as a mental examination to test if each is mentally stable.

The couple will undergo a full trial and the onus now lies on the two men to prove their innocence.

Chimbalanga and Monjeza did not seem to be moved by the magistrate’s decision. They were not allowed to comment on the ruling. The lawyer representing the couple, Osward Ntuwakale, asked the court to give him two weeks for him to prepare for their defence. "I will call upon defence witnesses," he said.

Chimbalanga and Monjeza have been arrested based on Sections 153 and 156 of the Penal Code which criminalise homosexuality and recommend that anyone convicted under these sections may be jailed for a minimum of five years and maximum of 14 years and hard labour.



Monjeza and Chimbalanga, who are being held at Chichiri Prison, one of Malawi’s maximum security jails, have been refused bail on two different occasions by the same magistrates’ court. They are taunted and jeered by crowds of people every time they make a court appearance. The situation was not different on the day of the ruling.

The case has attracted a lot of interest both locally and internationally. The court was jam-packed during the ruling, with on-lookers, rights groups and diplomats from the British High Commission. The diplomats did not comment.

"The court ruling today is a very sad development. The full trial will only perpetuate misery for the couple as they will continue to be kept in prison and continue to face the wrath of homophobic people," said Gift Trapense, director of human rights organisation the Centre for the Development of People.

"It is very unfair to continue holding the couple in jail just because they are expressing their love for each other. The conditions in Malawi’s prisons are very bad; there is overcrowding in the cells and inmates go hungry most times. It is sad that they should continue suffering just for choosing their own way of life," Trapense told IPS.

The magistrate has since set trial for Apr. 3.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has adopted Chimbalanga and Monjeza as prisoners of conscience. The rights organisation defines prisoners of conscience as people who have been jailed because of the lawful expression of their beliefs.

In a recent statement, Amnesty International United Kingdom director Kate Allen said Monjeza and Chimbalanga have committed no criminal offence.

"It is vital that as many people as possible join us in writing to the Malawi authorities calling on them to release the two men and for them to investigate their treatment in custody," she said.

Support for the gay couple has been mounting. On Mar. 16, Malawi’s main donors, including the UK government, Germany, African Development Bank (AfDB), Norway, the European Union and the World Bank, who operate under the Common Approach to Budget Support (CABS), warned Malawi against the prosecution of homosexuals. CABS provides up to 80 percent of Malawi’s development budget of 438 million dollars.

"When we talk about human rights, we do not only talk about the majority but also minority groups like the on-going issue of homosexuals which needs to be looked into thoroughly," Frank Kufwakwandi, head of AfDB in Malawi and also chairman of CABS said in astatement .

Kufwakwandi urged Malawi to respect human rights issues. "Respect for human rights is one of the fundamental principles of Malawi's budget support cooperation from the CABS group," he stated. The donor group also warned that that the country risks international isolation if it continues prosecuting homosexuals.

The government of Norway issued a warning saying the government of Malawi must respect gay rights or risk tainting its human rights record.

But the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC), a grouping of up to 22 protestant churches, has since urged government not to give in to donor pressure to accept gay rights in exchange for aid.

In a statement released on Mar. 19, the MCC called on the international community to "respect Malawi’s cultural and religious values and refrain from using aid as a means of forcing the country to legalise sinful acts like homosexuality in the name of human rights."

The MCC also asked government to maintain the laws that criminalise homosexual acts and practices.

Human Rights Watch urge Malawian President to intervene in gay marriage case

Human Rights Watch (HWR) has written to the President of Malawi urging him to intervene in the sentencing tomorrow of two gay men convicted for taking part in a marriage ceremony.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were expected to be jailed last month, but the judge delayed sentencing and allowed them to call defence witnesses. The court is due to reconvene tomorrow (3rd April 2010). Monjeza and Chimbalanga could face up to 14 years in jail, in line with the country's strict laws on homosexuality.

They have been in custody for almost three months, where they have been subjected to assaults.. the couple have twice been denied bail, and have pleaded not guilty to charges of sodomy and indecency. They were arrested last December after holding a traditional wedding ceremony in Blantyre.

The full text of the letter to President Mutharika is below.

***

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's largest human rights organizations, documenting a broad range of human rights violations in over 80 countries. We are writing today to draw your attention once again to the ongoing criminal trial of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. Their arrest and imprisonment on grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity, as we detail below, presents a grave threat to the human rights of all Malawians. We urge that all charges against Monjeza and Chimbnalanga are dropped, to uphold constitutional principles of equality, privacy and dignity.

Police arrested Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20) and Steven Monjeza (26) on December 28, 2009, because they conducted a traditional engagement ceremony in Blantyre on December 26. They were arrested at home and charged under Sections 153 ("unnatural offences") and 156 ("indecent practices between males") of Malawi's criminal code. They have been in custody since then, first at Blantyre police station, where they have described how police beat them in an effort to make them confess to having engaged in homosexual conduct and being in a homosexual relationship, and subsequently have been detained at Chichri prison.

A court denied both their request for bail and their appeal to have the matter moved to the Constitutional Court. Authorities subjected Chimbalanga to a medical examination, without consent, at Queen Elizabeth hospital on January 6, 2010, apparently aiming both to determine whether Chimbalanga had had sexual relations with males and establish Chimbalanga's gender. On January 7, both Chimbalanga and Monjeza were subjected-again without their consent-to psychiatric evaluation at Zomba Mental Hospital in Zomba city.

Their trial began at Blantyre Magistrate's Court on January 11 and the prosecution rested its case on March 22, 2010. The defense will present its case on April 6, 2010, and the verdict is expected soon after.

All this time, Chimbalanga and Monjeza have remained in prison. If found guilty, they may receive a sentence of up to 14 years with hard labor. Their families have disowned them and they rely upon local human rights organizations and their lawyers for legal aid and support. The case has received widespread media coverage locally and internationally, and Malawian human rights defenders fear that it has already dealt a harsh blow to HIV/AIDS education and prevention efforts among already marginalized populations of men who have sex with men.

The arrest and trial of Chimbalanga and Monjeza violate both domestic and international human rights standards. Articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Malawian constitution guarantee the rights to human dignity and personal freedoms, equality, and privacy. Articles 32 and 35 guarantee the rights to freedom of association and expression. The criminalization of consensual sexual conduct violates these and other principles of the constitution; it also violates human rights principles enshrined in international treaties to which Malawi is party.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which authoritatively interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), found in the 1994 case of Toonen v. Australia that laws criminalizing consensual homosexual conduct among adults violate the ICCPR's protections for private life and against discrimination. Article 9 of the ICCPR secures the inherent dignity of persons deprived of liberty and Articles 17 and 19 guarantee the rights to privacy and freedom of expression. Articles 2 and 3 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights prohibit discrimination in an identical way to the ICCPR and require each individual to be equal before the law and be entitled to equal protection of the law. Article 28 of the Charter requires the promotion, respect for and reinforcement of "mutual respect and tolerance" between all individuals.

Forensic, medical, and psychiatric examinations performed upon individuals in detention and without their consent are abusive and may constitute torture. Their value in determining sexual orientation and consensual sexual practices has long been discredited. Article 19 (3) of Malawi's constitution promises that "No person shall be subject to torture of any kind or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Article 19 (5) guarantees that "no person shall be subjected to medical or scientific experimentation without his or her consent." Article 7 of the ICCPR prohibits torture and cruel or degrading treatment; it specifically promises that "no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation."

In the light of the gross violation of the defendants' human rights, we once again call for the dropping of all charges and release of Chimbalanga and Monjeza. We ask this both in the interest of upholding Chimbalanga's and Monjeza's human rights as well as public health. At a minimum, we ask that Chimbalanga and Monjeza be released on bail immediately as their case is reviewed.

Scott Long
Director
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Rights Program

http://gay.pinknews.co.uk/2010/04/02/human-rights-watch-urge-malawian-president-to-intervene-in-gay-marriage-case/
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Recent 12/09 Press: Malawi's 1st Gay Marriage & Arrest

In Malawian Press:


Dr Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary for Nutrition and HIV/AIDS.

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Dr Mary Shawa, Principal Secretary for Nutrition and HIV/AIDS.

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One of the editorial comments made after the media published articles of the MSM and HIV/AIDS issues.

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