Malawi court convicts gay couple

Image caption,
Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R) face 14 years in jail

A court in Malawi has convicted a gay couple of gross indecency and unnatural acts.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were arrested in December 2009 after celebrating their engagement ahead of a wedding planned for 2010.

They have been in jail ever since and now face 14 years in prison.

Their arrest had sparked international condemnation and a debate about homosexuality in the country.

Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa convicted both men of engaging in gay sex, which he said was "against the order of nature". They are to be sentenced on 20 May.

'No victims'

In calling for a lighter sentence, the couple's lawyer argued that the pair's actions had not victimised anyone.

"Unlike in a rape case, there was no complainant or victim in this case," he said. "Here are two consenting adults doing their thing in private. Nobody will be threatened or offended if they are released into society."

But the chief prosecutor welcomed the judge's decision.

"In Malawi, we don't allow men to marry men or women to marry women," said Dickens Mwambazi. "I think 90% of the crowd here agree with the ruling."

Same-sex liaisons are frowned upon in Malawi, where homosexual acts are outlawed.

The men had denied the charges and their lawyers said their constitutional rights had been violated.

But the Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) and the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) have been urging authorities to relax the country's stance on homosexuals.

The BBC's Raphael Tenthani in Blantyre, Malawi's commerical capital, says the government is also coming under pressure from Western donors over the issue.

For a poor country, 40% of whose development budget depends on donors, such concerns must be taken seriously, he adds.

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