http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/291245

Gay Malawians’ defiant prison declaration of love

Posted Apr 27, 2010 by Andrew John
Two men on trial on charges of homosexuality in Malawi, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, have issued a defiant message from their prison cell, affirming their love for each other and thanking their supporters in Malawi and worldwide.
Protestors demonstrated in support of the couple in London recently
Protestors demonstrated in support of the couple in London recently
Picture: Brett Lock, OutRage!
Chimbalanga, 20, said: “I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”
Monjeza, 26, said: “We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will not and never stop loving Chimbalanga.”
The messages were relayed from inside Chichiri Prison in Blantyre, Malawi, to Peter Tatchell of the LGBT human rights group OutRage! in London, England.
Chimbalanga and Monjeza have stressed their gratitude for the support they have received from fellow Malawians and from people around the world:
“We are thankful for the people who have rallied behind us during this difficult time. We are grateful to the people who visit and support us, which really makes us feel to be members of a human family; otherwise we would feel condemned,” said Chimbalanga.
Monjeza added: “All the support is well appreciated. We are grateful to everybody who is doing this for us. May people please continue the commendable job. Keep sending some small contribution. The money you send to us is so valuable and it makes such a huge difference between life and death, as prison life is very difficult. With the money we are able to buy some extra food to supplement our intake of the much needed vitamins and proteins.”
Peter Tatchell expressed his admiration of the two men. He told Digital Journal: “Steven and Chimbalanga are showing immense fortitude and courage. They declared their love in a society where many people – not all – are very intolerant and homophobic. This was a very brave thing to do. Although suffering in prison, they are unbowed. They continue to maintain their love and affirm their human right to be treated with dignity and respect.
“They have taken a pioneering stand for the right to love. They love each other, have harmed no one and believe that love should not be a crime. It is nobody’s business what they do in the privacy of their own home. There is no evidence that they have committed any crime under Malawian law. They should not be on trial or in prison. Although not convicted of an offence, they have already spent four months behind bars.
“OutRage! is supporting Steven and Tiwonge. For the last three months, we have arranged extra food to supplement the men’s meagre, poor-quality prison rations.
Adopted as Prisoners of Conscience
“We pay tribute to the other people and organizations who are giving legal and medical assistance to the detained men. This is a huge help. Steven and Tiwonge have asked me to communicate their appreciation,” said Tatchell.
Until quite recently Monjeza and Chimbalanga did not realize that they had been adopted as Prisoners of Conscience by Amnesty International. When this news was relayed to them in prison they were, to quote one source: “Very happy with the effort made by Amnesty International to accord them this status. They offer their thanks to Amnesty.”
Chimbalanga and Monjeza have also expressed appreciation for the protest on their behalf in London on 22 March.
The two men thanked London-based African and British activists who have lobbied the Malawian Ambassador and the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Human Rights Unit to seek their release and to secure medical treatment for Monjeza.
Monjeza’s condition has stabilized, according to Tatchell, but he remains very ill. He says an eyewitness who saw him last weekend has described him as thin and weak with jaundiced eyes.
Tatchell says Chimbalanga and Monjeza are urging continued protests to “get our release and the dropping of charges by the Malawi government.”