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Malawi prisoner Steven Monjeza is very ill

in MALAWI, /201

"Mr Monjeza, who is on trial with his same-sex partner, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, has been sick for more than two weeks.

"Steven Monjeza remains very ill in the notorious Chichiri Prison in Blantyre, Malawi, according to people who have seen him in the last two days. I have been sent an appeal to get him medical help," reports London-based human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell of OutRage!

"Mr Monjeza, who is on trial with his same-sex partner, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, has been sick for more than two weeks. He is vomiting, coughing and suffering from pain and pressure in his chest. His eyes are jaundiced. He is thin and weak, with barely enough energy to smile. People who saw him at the weekend are very worried about his condition," added Mr Tatchell.

"He needs to be admitted hospital to undergo medical tests and receive treatment. He is not getting adequate care in prison.

"Although he has not been convicted of any offence, Steven has been held on remand in an overcrowded, fetid call for nearly four months, without proper food, sanitation or medical care.

"Together with Mr Chimbalanga, Steven is being prosecuted on charges of homosexuality. They were arrested after holding an engagement ceremony last December. Such a ceremony is not illegal in Malawi and there is no evidence that they have committed any criminal homosexual acts.

"This weekend I was sent another request to get Mr Monjeza transferred to hospital.

"At first sight, some of Steven's symptoms seem like flu. But the prison authorities have discounted this possibility. They suspected that he had TB. Steven was sent for tests. But the TB tests have come back negative. The prison authorities would not have sent him to be tested for TB if his symptoms corresponded to flu.

"Prison officials are unable to determine Steven's illness. Although they are unsure, they are not doing further medical tests.

"Even if Steven had only bronchitis or pleurisy, we should be concerned. These can develop into pneumonia, which can sometimes be fatal.

"Steven's poor health is confirmed by his partner, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who has also expressed concern about Steven's condition.

"Both men have urged that Steven receives hospital treatment as soon as possible.

"My independent sources agree. They say Mr Monjeza needs to go to hospital for a full medical examination and treatment. His health is likely to deteriorate further unless he gets medical care.

"Mr Monjeza is being held in a small cell, with up to a dozen other men. There is not enough space to sleep comfortably.

"Toilet and washing facilities are deficient.

"Mr Monjeza receives only two prison meals a day. It is always the same maize porridge with beans, which has low nutritional value. The families of other prisoners bring them food to supplement their meagre rations. But Steven and Tiwonge's families have abandoned them. The two men say they are getting little or no assistance, apart from occasional prison visits from straight Malawian sympathisers.

"Chichiri prison was built for 800 prisoners. It currently holds nearly 1,900 inmates.

"All the prisoners are suffering in the jail's overcrowded, sub-standard conditions. Sickness is rife, with high rates of disease and infection. The prison needs reform and upgrading for the sake of all detainees.

"Chichiri jail was one of the prisons used to incarcerate Malawian dissidents who opposed the dictatorship of the western-backed anti-communist dictator, Dr Hastings Banda, from the late 1960s to the early 1990s.

"Steven and Tiwonge are being held on remand. They have not been convicted of any offence. Yet they are being treated like criminals and imprisoned with hardened felons convicted of serious crimes. Although they have never been found guilty of any crime, they have already served almost four months in jail.

"Thankfully, most of the prison guards and other prisoners seem more enlightened and compassionate that some of Malawi's political and religious leaders. Steven and Tiwonge are not suffering homophobic abuse or ill-treatment in prison. They have friends in prison.

"Requests by Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga for bail have been turned down repeatedly, even though people accused of violent assaults and murder have been granted bail. The denial of bail for a victimless alleged crime is very unusual. It looks like they are being singled out for special victimisation by the courts.
 

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