Otta Benga, Formerly Enslaved
The Epitome of a Nubian Knight

Otta Benga, Formerly Enslaved<br>The Epitome of a Nubian Knight

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The REEL Black Same Gender Loving Filmography Resource (A 24/7 ONLINE FILM DATABASE)

The REEL Black Same Gender Loving Filmography Resource (A 24/7 ONLINE FILM DATABASE)
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LAST UPDATE: Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Malawi President Pardons
Same Gender Loving Male Couple

Steven Monjeza, Left, And Tiwonge Chimbalanga
After Being Sentenced To Prison In Malawi On May 20th, 2010.

Malawi President Pardons Gay Couple
Published: May 29, 2010

JOHANNESBURG — A gay couple in Malawi sentenced to 14 years in prison for “unnatural acts” was pardoned Saturday shortly after Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations met with that country’s president.

“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws,” President Bingu wa Mutharika said at a news conference in Lilongwe, the capital, before adding that he nevertheless was ordering the couple’s unconditional release on “humanitarian grounds.”

The two men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 33, and Steven Monjeza, 26, were arrested Dec. 28, two days after holding an engagement party in Blantyre, the nation’s largest city. As a rule, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people do not dare make any public show of affection in their deeply conservative country. The event made front-page headlines in a Malawian newspaper.

On May 18, the couple was convicted of sodomy, and while the harsh sentence was generally welcomed by the Malawian public, it drew international rebuke. The nation, one of the poorest in Africa, is heavily dependent on foreign aid, and several donors suggested they might have to reconsider their generosity.

Pop stars issued their own condemnations. Madonna, who has adopted two children from Malawi, said the nation had taken “a giant step backward.” Elton John wrote an appeal to Mr. Mutharika, asking him to release the couple and “expunge Malawi’s discriminatory laws against homosexuality.”

In announcing the pardon, the president emphasized that he was not condoning gay marriage. “It’s unheard of in Malawi, and it’s illegal,” he said.

Mr. Mutharika, an economist and the chairman of the African Union, is often praised for recent improvements in Malawi’s health and education systems. Mr. Ban arrived Saturday to begin a two-day visit.

“The secretary general told the president rather strongly that the current controversy was having a negative effect on Malawi’s reputation and obscuring the progress it had made in other spheres,” said a member of the United Nations delegation who said he was not authorized to comment and could only speak anonymously.

Mr. Ban then addressed Parliament, informing legislators that their president had made a “courageous decision” to grant the pardon. The legislators responded with dreary silence while foreign diplomats in the gallery above cheered and applauded.

The secretary general further told the lawmakers, “It is unfortunate that laws that criminalize people on the basis of their sexual orientation should still exist in some countries.”

A White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, greeted news of the pardon with approval, declaring that “these individuals were not criminals and their struggle is not unique.”

Late Saturday, Mr. Chimbalanga, who has said he considers himself a woman in a man’s body, and Mr. Monjeza were released from custody.

The police escorted Mr. Chimbalanga back to his home village in the remote hills of Thyolo District. He stayed for a reunion with family members, and planned to return to Blantyre early Sunday.

“I’ve been under so much emotional stress that I need to find somewhere to rest,” said Mr. Chimbalanga, speaking by cellphone through an interpreter. “I still want to marry Steven. But I don’t know what he is thinking any more. We’ve been through so much.”

He said: “I think it is going to be hard to stay in Malawi. I am afraid of what people might do to us. We probably need to seek asylum in some other country. Is there a place for us? I don’t know.”

Celia W. Dugger contributed reporting.