BLANTYRE, Malawi – The two men on trial for charges of homosexuality in Malawi have issued a defiant message from their prison cell, affirming their love for each other and thanking their supporters.
Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga's statements were relayed from inside Chichiri Prison in Blantyre to Peter Tatchell of the human rights group OutRage.
The pair were arrested for gross indecency in December. Several weeks ago a Malawi judge declared that they will face a full trial, which could land the pair with a 14-year prison sentence, including hard labor.
But the statement, released today, show's continued strength. Tiwonge 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."
"We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will not and never stop loving Tiwonge," said Steven.
"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 Tiwonge.
Steven 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."
Tatchell has praised the pair. "Steven and Tiwonge 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," he said.
"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.
Until quite recently Steven and Tiwonge 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."
Write a letter to Steven and Tiwonge
Help boost their spirits. Show them you care. Send a letter or postcard of support:
Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza
Prisoners, Chichiri Prison
P.O. Box 30117
Blantyre 3, Malawi