Malawi gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison for wedding

A Malawi gay couple were sentenced to the maximum 14 years in prison with hard labour for holding the country’s first same-sex wedding, which landed them with a sodomy conviction.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were arrested on December 28 after their symbolic wedding and accused of violating “the order of nature”. They have been in jail ever since.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and most other African countries.

“I sentence you to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour each,” magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa told the two men in a courtroom in the commercial capital Blantyre.

“I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example,” the judge added.

“Malawi is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons.”

The couple looked subdued when the sentence was handed down and were quickly rushed out of the packed courtroom.

As they were escorted away under heavy police guard, hundreds of curious onlookers outside the court shouted at them, with one woman yelling, “Malawi should never allow homosexuality at any cost.”

The sentence could be appealed, said the judge.

Former colonial power Britain and the United States expressed “deep disappointment” at the ruling.

“We view the criminalisation of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi,” said a statement by State Department the United States.

“The sentence is entirely disproportionate and against international human rights principles,” said Ireland’s overseas development minister Peter Power.

“We are working with our partners for a strong EU response,” he added.

Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries. Nearby South Africa is the only country on the continent to recognise same-sex marriages.

Thirty-eight out of 53 countries criminalise consensual gay sex, which is punishable by death in some nations, according to Human Rights Watch.

In January, the Malawi couple appealed to the Constitutional Court to toss out the case, but the top court refused to consider that appeal.

Their lawyer Mauya Msuku, who has been hired by the country’s underground gay-rights group, the Centre for the Development of People, argued that laws banning homosexuality “violate the right to marry and find a family”.

Msuku said he would consult with his clients on filing an new appeal.

In an unusually graphic language, Usiwa Usiwa convicted Monjeza of “having carnal knowledge of Tiwonge through the anus, which is against the order of nature.”

Chimbalanga was found guilty of “permitting buggery”, which the judge said was similarly contrary to the natural order.

Human rights organisations said the sentence was a blow for minority groups and the fight against AIDS.

Undule Mwakasungura, director of Malawi’s Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said the sentence would drive gays into hiding.

“We have many of them who need to publicly access information and HIV and AIDS medical care. It’s a big let-down,” he said.

Richard Bridgen of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said the sentencing was a “real tragedy for Malawian society.”

“The deep point is that they have the right to be different… the right to live the life they choose,” said Bridgen.

But Protestant churches in Malawi have urged the government to uphold its ban on homosexuality, which religious leaders described as “un-Christian”.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iuGE0gvuWA4_D34FDFGjdso-nu-g

See also:
* Gay Malawi couple separated in prison
* http://www.petertatchell.net/international/tiwonge-&-steven-split-up-by-malawi-authorities.html for information about how to support the campaign against this sentence and link to a petition



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