The first anniversary of the Malawi gay arrests

by David Jones, CEDEP-Malawi US Volunteer

Whether in December you celebrate Ashura, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, the Solstice, or the Gregorian or Islamic New Year, please remember Tiwonge Chimbalanga in your prayers.  Things are not going well.

We haven’t heard much lately, the result of a request to let quiet diplomacy work on asylum.

Meanwhile Tiwonge is suffering and safety is becoming a more relevant consideration than patience.

In recent weeks:  Tiwonge went to Blantyre to get her passport, stayed with a relative, a crowd gathered and circled the house, and the relative asked her to leave.  In Lilongwe Tiwonge had malaria and needed to see a doctor.  A threatening crowd gathered at the public health centre and she had to leave.  It happened again when Tiwonge needed to have a tooth pulled, and she had to sneak into a private clinic at night.

Tiwonge is hiding in a house in a neighborhood of Lilongwe.  The house is also used as an office.  The houses there are small.  The bedrooms are the size of many walk-in closets in the US.  There is no privacy and the strain on everyone is becoming enormous.  Recently when staff were away one night Tiwonge walked the short distance to a rough commercial area where there are shops, a traditional market, men hanging around fires looking for piecework, petrol stations, a truck stop and several bars.  She was recognized and seriously beaten, and had her only valuable possession stolen, her cell phone.

Since we cannot tell when there may be a response on asylum there is a discussion now of moving Tiwonge to South Africa for her safety.  There are organizations that may be able to host Tiwonge there and provide support while we wait (Malawians have easy entry into South Africa although the time she can spend there is limited, and there is a backlash against African immigration, so this is not a permanent solution.).  Moving may even strengthen her case by highlighting the clear risk to her safety in Malawi.  Discussions will begin on this option now.  If this is possible I may be asking you for help in moving Tiwonge.  MCC-New York has just made a donation to Tiwonge which will arrive just in time for Christmas!

December 28th will be the first anniversary of the Malawi gay arrests.  Please take some note of this.  Tiwonge was pardoned but is not free.  Tiwonge is still confined, and living with emotional trauma and physical danger.

Please take some time this December to try to send Tiwonge some strength as you celebrate in your own way this season’s hope for new beginnings.

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