Officials at the State Department said
Thursday they were “appalled” by the 14-year sentence given to a
gay couple in Malawi.
“The United State is appalled by
today's sentencing of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven
Monjeza to 14-years of hard labor,” State Department spokesman
Philip Crowley said during a press briefing.
A Malawi judge imposed the maximum
sentence allowed by law on the men for participating in a symbolic
engagement ceremony in December. The pair were arrested two days
after holding their ceremony in Blantyre, the country's largest city,
and were found guilty earlier this week of unnatural acts and gross
In issuing his sentence, Magistrate
Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa said he wanted to give the men a “scaring
sentence” to “protect” the public.
“We view the criminalization of
sexual orientation and gender identity and sentencing to 14-years
hard labor as a deeply troubling violation of human rights,”
Crowley added. “Decriminalization of homosexuality is integral to
the continued protection of universal human rights in Malawi. It is
also crucial to the urgent need to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS – a
fight in which the United States is closely allied with the Malawian
In statement issued late Thursday,
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “The criminalization of
sexual orientation and gender identity is unconscionable, and this
case mars the human rights record of Malawi.”
Anti-gay sentiment in African has risen
to dramatic new highs in recent years, prompting lawmakers in several
countries to respond with stronger punishments against being gay,
including an anti-gay measure in Uganda that includes a death
provision under certain circumstances. At least thirty-seven African
countries currently outlaw being gay.
The State Department, Crowley said,
remained “disturbed” by laws that criminalize being gay and urged
nations to reject such measures.
The Malawi couple, 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.