Tiwonge Chimbalanga Missing After Malawi President Pardons Couple

First the good news: Tiwonge Chimbalanga* and Steven Monjeza, the Malawi couple sentenced to 14 years of prison for recognizing their relationship, were pardoned and set free last Saturday by Malawi’s president.

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.”

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.

The news of the couple’s release has been greeted by (most) of the world as an unexpected blessing, whatever the political reasons. Both were beaten in prison, and Chimbalanga was refused medical attention in prison, so their conviction was clearly a death sentence.

Steven Monjeza (left) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (right)
Steven Monjeza (left) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (right)

But as most of us guessed, this is not the end of Tiwonge and Steven’s story. From the same New York Times article:

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

The police escorted Ms. Chimbalanga back to her home village in the remote hills of Thyolo District. She 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 Ms. 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.”

She 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.”

Tiwonge Chimbalanga was reported missing two days after that interview. The Zambian Watchdog (an apparently reputable news source based in neighboring Zambia) filed this report Tuesday evening.

One of Malawi, gay partner pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika from a 14 year jail, Tiwonge Chimbalanga also well known as ‘Aunt Tiwo’ is reportedly missing.

Chimbalanga was released from prison on Saturday after President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned the gay couple on “humanitarian grounds”.

Malawi Prison chief, Macdonald Chaona told Nyasa Times that Aunt Tiwo was taken to her home village in Thyolo on Saturday night, some 36 kilometers from Blantyre, after being released.

But since her release, Aunt Tiwo has been at large.

Her brother-in-law, Maxwell Manda, who works at the High Court, said he had not seen Aunt Tiwo and pointed out that she wanted to leave Malawi upon her release.

“I have not seen her. I don’t know where she is. But she wanted to leave the country after the being released,” said Manda.

Her uncle, village headman Chimbalanga said Aunt Tiwo arrived in the village at 9pm on Saturday but since then she has not been seen around.

Let’s hope that either this report is wrong or Tiwonge is safely out of the country. The comments on that article are a horrific example of the violent environment in which she finds herself.

* The question of Tiwonge Chimbalanga’s gender identity has been cause for discussion throughout LGBT blogs since this story broke. If you look closely you’ll see that I avoided personal pronouns altogether in my first post on the Malawi couple. I also refrained from referring to the couple as gay, since that might not strictly be the case.

Since then, I have found indications that Chimbalanga specifically identifies as female. Therefore, she will be recognized with feminine pronouns on this blog. Out of respect for Ms. Chimbalanga, I have also corrected pronouns in the news articles above.

For more of this discourse, see Autumn Sandeen’s spot-on article for Pam’s House Blend and Jim Burroway’s commentary at Box Turtle Bulletin. Be sure to read through the comments as well; there’s a fantastic and important discussion taking place.