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article imageMalawian gay couple given 14 years behind bars

By Andrew John     May 20, 2010 in Lifestyle
The gay Malawian couple convicted due to their same-sex relationship have been given 14-year jail sentences. Human-rights groups are calling the verdict "outrageous" and "discriminatory."
The trial of Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, has drawn worldwide condemnation, largely because of Malawi’s archaic, colonial-era laws on homosexuality.
Earlier this week they were found guilty of “unnatural acts” and “gross indecency”. They had been in jail since they held an engagement ceremony last December.
The BBC’s Raphael Tenthani says Monjeza broke down in tears when he heard the sentence, while Chimbalanga remained calm.
In the UK on Tuesday, the human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell condemned the conviction of the couple.
“This is an outrageous verdict. While Steven and Tiwonge freely confirmed their love for each other, there was no credible evidence that they had committed any illegal homosexual acts,” he says. Tatchell has been supporting and advocating for the men since their arrest and detention in December last year.
Not supposed to discriminate
“The law under which they were convicted is a discriminatory law that only applies to same-sex relations. It is unconstitutional. Article 20 of Malawi’s constitution guarantees equality and non-discrimination. The law in Malawi is not supposed to discriminate,” Tatchell said.
At their sentencing hearing, Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Uisiwausiwa said, according to the National Post: “I sentence these two . . . to a maximum sentence because I want us to stop Malawian sons and daughters from copying the same sex marriages, which are un-Malawian and not in our culture and religious beliefs.”
“This is the first case of its kind in Malawi . . . this is the worst case of its kind,” he added.
The rights group Amnesty International has called for the immediate and unconditional release of the couple. The organization says their human rights have been flagrantly violated.
A Malawi gay activist, Udule Mwakasungura, said the sentence may bruise the country’s image.
“Malawi is a signatory to treaties that protect minority rights and this sentence is unfortunate and may affect our global standing on human rights,” he said.
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