A Malawi judge has sentenced a gay
couple to 14 years of hard labor – the maximum sentence allowed by
law – for participating in a symbolic engagement ceremony in
December, ABC News reported.
The men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 33, and
Steven Monjeza, 26, were arrested two days after holding their
ceremony in Blantyre, Malawi's largest city, and found guilty earlier
this week of unnatural acts and gross indecency.
Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa found
the couple guilty of “carnal knowledge” that was “against the
order of nature.”
In issuing his sentence, Usiwa-Usiwa
said he wanted “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,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Department of State
condemned the conviction.
“The United States is deeply
disappointed in today's conviction of same-sex couple Tiwonge
Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi,” Assistant Secretary
Philip J. Crowley said in a press briefing Tuesday. “We view the
criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step
backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi.”
The AFP reported that hundreds of
people attended the couple's engagement, believed to be the first in
“I went there to see for myself a gay
couple,” Finiasi Chikaoneka told the news service.
“There were many people who were just
curious about the whole affair because this was the first time that
gays have come out openly,” he added.
Anti-gay sentiment in Africa has risen
to dramatic new highs in recent years, prompting lawmakers to press
for stronger punishments against being gay. A proposed law in Uganda
that has drawn worldwide outrage would outlaw gay sex and includes a
death provision for repeat offenders and people who are HIV-positive,
increasing the penalties for having gay sex in a country where it's
already banned. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has rejected a call
to protect gay men and lesbians in a constitution being drawn up
under a power-sharing deal. “We can't do it or the dead will turn
in their graves,” he said.
Speaking last month during the
installation of a Roman Catholic Bishop in Blantyre, Malawi President
Bingu wa Mutharika condemned being gay: “This is evil and bad
before the eyes of God. There are certain things we Malawians just
do not do.”
At least thirty-seven African countries
have outlawed being gay.
The men, who have been held in separate
cells since their December 28 arrest, are expected to appeal the
ruling with the help of international human rights groups.