Gay couple given 14-year prison term in Malawi

 

A MALAWIAN court’s decision yesterday to sentence a gay couple to 14 years in prison for gross indecency and unnatural acts has triggered a wave of international condemnation.

Malawi’s former colonial ruler, the United Kingdom, was one of the first to respond, saying it was “deeply dismayed” by the men’s jailing, which ran counter to the progress the country had made on improving human rights.

“The UK urges the government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure the defence of human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds,” a joint statement issued by the foreign and commonwealth offices read.

Michelle Kagari, deputy Africa director of Amnesty International, called the sentence “an outrage” and described the men as “prisoners of conscience” for whom the rights organisation would continue to campaign.

Amnesty told The Irish Times it was sending representatives to the country in June to investigate, meet all the parties and take further action upon their return.

Malawians Tiwonge Chimbalanga (26) and Steven Monjeza (20) were arrested and charged by the police on December 28th last year after they publicly celebrated their engagement in the southern African country’s capital, Blantyre.

During the court case, Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza denied the charges of gross indecency and unnatural acts and their lawyers said their constitutional rights had been violated.

On Tuesday Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa found both men guilty, but defence lawyer Mauya Msuku argued they should be given a light sentence because their actions had not harmed anyone.

“Unlike in a rape case, there was no complainant or victim in this case. Here are two consenting adults doing their thing in private.

“Nobody will be threatened or offended if they are released into society,” he said after the ruling.

However, Judge Usiwa-Usiwa was not swayed by the defence’s argument and, under laws dating back to the colonial era, he jailed the men for 14 years with hard labour, the maximum sentence he could hand down.

“I will give you a scaring sentence so the public will be protected from people like you; so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example,” the judge told the two men in court, before adding: “Malawi is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons.” Mr Msuku has said the men would appeal the judgment to the country’s high court.

Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and anti-gay sentiment is widespread among the population. The stance against homosexuality is also strongly supported by the Protestant church.

A number of rights activists have called on donor aid to be withdrawn from Malawi.

In a statement issued yesterday, Minister of State for Overseas Development Peter Power said: “I have been following this case very closely through our Embassy in Malawi and, along with our EU partners, have regularly emphasised to the authorities our serious concern about this case.”