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Engaged couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga may have seen their president pardon their guilty verdict, but they’re about to become just another international statistic for imprisoned queer couples. Meet Pakistan’s Malik Muhammad Iqbal, 42, and his partner Rani, 19, who was born a man and lives as a woman. They’re in lock up.
While photos Monjeza and Chimbalanga’s engagement ceremony wound up in newspapers, it’s Malik and Rani’s attempt to tie the knot that has them awaiting trial in a northern Pakistan jail cell. But unlike Malawi’s couple, whose partners stood by each other in the face of public scrutiny, Pakistan’s accused queers insist they are not lovers.
Eighteen-year-old Rani says Iqbal, a 42-year-old fertilizer dealer, is a friend – not a lover. “We were only celebrating my birthday,” Rani said. But prosecutors say it was a marriage that was taking place. Police smashed their way in, broke up the party, arrested 43 dancing guests, Rani and Iqbal. Iqbal says he was just another guest at the party. “This was not a gay marriage,” he said. “These are just false allegations.”
Peshawar police Chief Shoukat Ali disagrees. Officials say they have photographs and a wedding dress to prove it. “Our investigation shows this man likes these people more than women,” Ali said. “He admitted it. This is a psychological disease when men are attracted to men and not attracted to women.”
Which begs the question: Are they indeed a couple and lying to escape punishment? Was it really just a birthday party and police are putting forward a false set of circumstances? And is Rani indeed queer — living like hundreds of thousands of Pakistani men as a enuch, which doesn’t make him gay, but trans. Not that it makes Rani too celebrated in Pakistani society.
They face 10 years in prison. Where’s Madonna’s petition?