Malawi — A judge convicted a gay couple in Blantyre, Malawi of
"unnatural acts and gross indecency" after a trial Tuesday that drew
worldwide condemnation of this southern African country's colonial-era
laws on homosexuality.
Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, had been jailed since
their arrest Dec. 27, the day they celebrated their engagement with a
party that drew crowds of curious, jeering onlookers.
Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa said the sentencing
will take place on Thursday. The couple could be imprisoned for up to 14
Hearings in the trial also have drawn Malawians who have ridiculed the
couple, an indication of views on homosexuality in this traditional
society — and elsewhere in Africa.
illegal in most of Africa
Homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 countries on the continent. In
Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill that would sentence homosexuals
to life in prison and include capital punishment for "repeat
offenders." Even in South Africa, the only African country that
recognizes gay rights, gangs have carried out so-called "corrective"
rapes on lesbians.
Michaela Clayton of the South Africa-based AIDS & Rights Alliance
for Southern Africa said not only were human rights being violated, but
the fight against AIDS was being hurt. Gay people forced underground
were unlikely to seek counseling and treatment for AIDS, she and other
Clayton said gays and other minorities in Africa had in recent years
become more assertive about their sexual orientation and about claiming
their rights, which could have led to the backlash.
"We have to keep on being strategic about the way we push this agenda
forward," she said.
Priti Patel of the Southern African Litigation Centre, an independent
rights group, said Monjeza and Chimbalanga could appeal on the grounds
that the laws under which they were prosecuted violate the country's
1994 constitution. But an earlier attempt by their lawyer to have the
case thrown out on those grounds was rejected.
Malawi's government has been defiant in the face of international
criticism over the prosecution of Monjeza and Chimbalanga. Months before
the verdict, Information Minister Leckford Mwanza Thoto said it was
clear the two had broken the law.
Malawi church leaders have backed the government, saying homosexuality
is "sinful" and the West should not be allowed to use its financial
power to force Malawi to accept homosexuality. Malawi relies on donors
for 40 percent of its development budget.
The controversy, though, has emboldened some human rights activists in
Malawi. The Center for the Development of People was recently formed to
fight for the rights of homosexuals and other minorities.