20 May 2010

Gay Malawi couple sentenced to 14 years' hard labour

9:00 pm on 20 May 2010

A judge in Malawi has sentenced a gay couple to 14 years in prison with hard labour after they were convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts.

The BBC reports that the judge, Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa, said he wanted to protect the public.

"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," Judge Usiwa-Usiwa said.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, have been in jail since their arrest in December 2009 after holding an engagement ceremony. They had denied the charges and their lawyers said their constitutional rights had been violated.

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

Pressure from Western aid donors

Malawi is a conservative society where same-sex liaisons are frowned upon. Human-rights organisations have been urging the authorities there to relax the country's stance on homosexuals; now 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, according to the BBC's correspondent in Malawi.