Thursday, 27 May 2010

Malawi updates: International action to support Tiwonge + Steven

CAPE TOWN/SOUTH AFRICA, 12JUN2009 - Jacob Zuma...Image via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning
  • South African Anglicans call on Zuma to lobby
  • Couple split up
  • Malawians think 14 years too harsh
  • Tatchell on Tiwonge's gender identification
  • World wide protests being organised, Madonna starts petition
The Anglican church in southern Africa has called on President Jacob Zuma and the South African government to lobby for the immediate release of two Malawian's, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, sentenced to 14 years in prison for their homosexual relationship.
"We urge them to press for the swift release of these two individuals, who have committed no act of violence or harm against anyone; for the quashing of the sentence against them; and for the repeal of this repressive legislation," the Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa said.

"As we have previously stated, though there is a breadth of theological views among us on matters of human sexuality, we are united in opposing the criminalisation of homosexual people.

"We see the sentence that has been handed down to these two individuals as a gross violation of human rights and we therefore strongly condemn such sentences and behaviour towards other human beings."
Edited to add: Zuma has condemned the sentence. The Times (SA) reports:
Challenged by Democratic Alliance MP Dion George to repudiate "this despicable homophobic assault on the human rights and dignity of our brothers and sisters across Africa", Zuma condemned Malawi's imprisonment of two gay men who announced their intention to marry.

Though he said he had already condemned the persecution of the two men, there is no public record of any negative comment from him or from the government.

George told The Times Zuma's condemnation was a welcome breakthrough, but added: "What we need to see now is President Zuma saying this to all his African colleagues across the continent."
Reuters says:
"We have condemned the action taken to arrest people in terms of our constitution," Zuma said about the arrests in Malawi, in response to questions in parliament.

While homosexuality is illegal in most of Africa's 53 nations, including Malawi and Kenya, South Africa in 2006 passed laws recognizing same-sex marriage.

"We need to persuade, we need to make people understand, we need to move with them. We have never adopted a confrontational stance on matters," said Zuma, a polygamist with five wives and 19 children, some with women other than his wives.
The Anglican church in southern Africa also expressed concern at the "violent language" used against the gay community across sub-Saharan Africa, and at the increased legal action being taken against gay individuals, communities and organisations.
"Even in South Africa we are aware of instances of violence against the gay and lesbian community. We therefore appeal to law-makers everywhere to defend the rights of these minorities." It was immoral to permit or support oppression of, or discrimination against, people on the grounds of their sexual orientation, the church said.
Malawian prison authorities have split the couple up, with Steven being transferred to the notorious Zomba prison, which loses one in 20 inmates annually to disease. Peter Tatchell said:

“Previously, the couple were jailed together in Chichiri prison, where Tiwonge remains. Although held in separate cells, in Chichiri they were able to see each other briefly from time to time."

“Now they will have no contact at all. This move will be particularly hard for Steven. Of the two, he is more vulnerable and stressed. Tiwonge, in contrast, is robust and resilient."

“I fear that this separation may have an adverse impact on Steven’s mental and physical well-being. He was seriously ill for a month and is still not fully well. His isolation from Tiwonge is likely to be a severe blow to his morale. It could cause his health to relapse."

“Last weekend, just days after they were sentenced to 14 years hard labour on charges of homosexuality, reports from inside Chichiri prison said that both Tiwonge and Steven were cheerful and in good spirits. Despite their harsh sentence, they seemed unbowed and determined to carry on their fight for justice."

Tatchell also said that he had received reports - echoed in video we published yesterday of reaction outside the sentencing - that "most Malawians" think the 14-year jail sentence is too harsh. Said Tatchell:
"Even many people who disagree with homosexuality seem to believe it is excessive and disproportionate. Some armed robbers, child sex abusers, rapists and killers get lighter sentences."
An appeal has been lodged which is expected to be heard by the end of June.

The international coverage of the couple has often referred to them as gay but many have pointed out that some media reports state the Tiwonge identifies as a woman.

Peter Tatchell has been in constant contact and supporting them and has responded to queries regarding Tiwonge's gender identification:
"It is an issue that I have pursued from the outset but unsuccessfully to date. The lawyers for Tiwonge have not been clear on this matter either."

"Tiwonge has not stated clearly to my contacts in Malawi how he/she wants to be referred to."

"I have arranged Malawian prison visitors for the last four months. I have got them to ask Tiwonge about his/her gender identity but the answers are unclear. I will get them to keep asking."

"It would be wrong to refer to Tiwonge as ’she’ and ‘transgender’ unless we have express instructions / permission to do so from Tiwonge. In the meantime, in my statements I have avoided labels like ‘gay’ and ‘he’; although I have referred to them as men as this is what they are legally, biologically and in terms of this prosecution."

"Although they have been convicted of homosexuality, I suggest that we do not refer to Steven and Tiwonge as a ‘gay couple’ until these issues are clarified. I realise that this is not very satisfactory and I am trying to resolve it by pressing the prison visitors to ask these questions once more."

"Tiwonge has seen parts / some of my news releases and raised no objections to the way I have described him/her. I would have altered the wording if this had been requested."
Singer Madonna has started her own petition which calls on people to "stand with Madonna in support of equal rights and the freedom to love in Malawi."

International protests are being organised. At the time of writing there is one this Saturday, 1 - 2:30pm outside the Malawi High Commission, 70 Winnington Road, London N2 0TX. And on the same day in New York between 2 - 3:30pm at the Malawian Consulate, 866 United Nations Plaza. In the United States other actions are being planned for either Tuesday June 8 or 15 in New York City, San Francisco and Washington DC. Actions in Pretoria, New York and San Francisco will happen June 15.

Donations to support Tiwonge and Steven with food parcels, medicine, clothes, blankets etc. and to help fund the legal campaign can be sent by post or BACS electronic transfer to the Malawi Defence Campaign, organised the UK-based LGBTI organisation OutRage!
By BACS electronic transfer:
Account name: Outrage
Bank: Alliance and Leicester Commercial Bank, Bootle, Merseyside, GIR
0AA, England, UK
Account number: 77809302
Sort code: 72-00-01
For electronic transfers from overseas (outside the UK), please
ADDITIONALLY quote these codes:
IBAN:  GB65ALE1720001778093 02

By cheque:
Write a cheque payable to “OutRage!” and send to OutRage!, PO Box
17816, London SW14 8WT. Enclose a note giving your name and address
and stating that your donation is for the Malawi Defence campaign.

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