A Malawi gay couple, who got engaged in a traditional ceremony late last year, was found guilty of buggery and indecency on Tuesday in a trail viewed as a test case for gay rights in the country.
“Being in a relationship should not be a crime. No one should be arrested and detained solely on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“Their human rights, the rights to freedom from discrimination, of conscience, expression and privacy have been flagrantly violated,” the statement said.
Homosexuality in Africa has become a contentious issue in recent months after a Ugandan lawmaker proposed a bill including the death penalty for some acts, the arrest of the Malawian couple, and a police raid on a gay wedding in Kenya earlier this year.
The Malawian couple, Steven Monjeza, 26 and 20-year old Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were arrested after they got engaged in a traditional ceremony in late December.
On Tuesday Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Uisiwausiwa found the two men guilty. They will be sentenced on May 20. Homosexuality in Malawi carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.
The men have twice been refused bail during their trial and are being held in a maximum security prison.
In March, aid-dependent Malawi’s major donors condemned what they called the abuse of human rights in the southern African nation, particularly a crackdown on gay rights, and warned that abuses could affect budget support.
Kagari said that the conviction of the couple is a step backward for Malawi.
“Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have done nothing wrong and should be released immediately.”
Peter Thatchell, a gay activist from Britain, also condenmed the conviction. Thatchell, who has been helping the couple in prison and organising global support described the two as brave.
“They declared their love in a society where many people – not all – are very intolerant and homophobic. This was a very brave thing to do,” he said. Reuters