DrBat (drbat) wrote in ontd_political,

Gay couple freed by Malawi presidential pardon return to home villages

A gay couple freed by presidential pardon in Malawi are living in separate villages amid fears for their safety.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and 20-year-old Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, walked free earlier this weekend when President Bingu wa Mutharika lifted their 14-year jail sentence on "humanitarian grounds" after meeting the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

But a human rights campaigner in Malawi said the men had not been reunited.

"Prison officials told them that they had received instructions from above that they should send them to their respective villages," Gift Trapence, who heads the Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep), said.

The two were "leading separate lives ... they are not staying together and they don't want to talk about their experience", he added.

He said Chimbalanga, who was jailed at Chichiri prison in Blantyre, was sent to his home village in the tea-growing district of Thyolo, 22 miles from the commercial capital, Blantyre.

Monjeza, who was imprisoned at Zomba maximum security prison, was dispatched to his home village of Chileka, nine miles from Blantyre.

Monjeza's family members said his partner would not be welcome in their village.

Kelvin Kaumira, in his 60s, said the community was "fuming" over the incident. "People here are furious," he said. "There are so many beautiful women in this village looking for a hand in marriage."

Zione Monjeza, an aunt of Monjeza, said: "Nobody wants to see Tiwonge again in this village. If he dares to come here, he must do so with police for his protection."

Such is the widespread public hostility to homosexuality that there are fears of reprisals against both men.

They were booed and jeered when they appeared in court after the symbolic engagement ceremony that saw them arrested last December.

Trapence added: "My staff have been unable to meet Monjeza. He can't be seen around Chileka [village]. He could be afraid of the hostility from the public."

Elders from Monjeza's clan gathered to discuss his release and form a plan of action. His relatives expressed concern about him turning to alcohol. His uncle, Khuliwa Dennis Monjeza, said his nephew was "a notorious person. He is unrepentant. He has been drinking since he was released on Saturday night".

Relatives claimed Monjeza was drunk on a local gin brew called kachasu or "kill me quick".

"We are all happy he has been released," his uncle added. "But we haven't sat down with Steve to discuss the saga and determine whether he has learnt a lesson. Prison in Malawi is not a good place to be."

The uncle made clear that Monjeza's partner should not seek a reunion with him. "The issue of the same-sex marriage is abnormal in our culture," he said.

"We want to warn his partner Tiwonge that he should never set his foot in this village ... otherwise we shall deal with him. Our name, history and culture cannot be spoiled with one child known as Steve."

When the Guardian approached Monjeza, he replied: "I can't just talk to you. I am selling my story. Give me K100,000 (£460)." He then dropped his demands to K60,000. He added: "I need money. Good money. I have just come out of prison. I need to survive."

Tags: africa, lgbtq / gender & sexual minorities, transphobia

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