Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga
Malawian prison authorities have placed jailed gay couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in different prisons.
According to London-based human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the LGBTI rights group OutRage!, Monjeza has been transferred to Zomba prison, separating him from Chimbalanga.
Previously, the couple were jailed together in Chichiri prison, where Chimbalanga remains.
Tatchell described the decision to separate the two men as “a cruel, malicious and vindictive attempt to cause the couple psychological distress and heartache”.
Tatchell has been assisting and supporting the couple since their arrest on homosexuality charges last December.
“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,” said Tatchell.
“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.”
Tatchell also commented that anecdotal reports suggest that most Malawians think the 14-year jail sentence imposed on the couple last week is excessive and disproportionate.
Lawyers for the men have said that their appeal may be heard around the end of June and that Monjeza might be returned to Chichiri prison once the appeal process begins.
They are optimistic that on appeal to the higher courts the 14 year sentence will be reduced or annulled.
“I hope they are right but I am sceptical, given that the High Court refused to give Steven and Tiwonge bail and refused to rule that their prosecution was unconstitutional. My fear is that the appeal court may reduce the jail term but not revoke it,” said Tatchell.
The activist urged people to sign pop singer Madonna’s petition which condemns the jailing of Monjeza and Chimbalanga and calls for equality and human rights.