Malawi Gay Couple Sentenced to Maximum 14 Years in Prison, Hard Labor, for Holding Public Engagement Ceremony



Malawi's gay couple, humiliated publicly and jailed since December for holding a public engagement ceremony declaring their love to one another, have been given the maximum sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labor — to "protect" Malawian society.

Nation Bloomberg reports: "Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were sentenced by Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa today in a court in the commercial capital, Blantyre. 'I am giving you a scary sentence so that the public must be protected,' Usiwa said. 'Malawi society is not ready to see its sons marrying other sons, nor daughters marrying daughters.' Chimbalanga, popularly known in the country as Aunt Tiwo, was composed while being sentenced, while Monjeza broke down in tears before being escorted to an awaiting police vehicle."

Monjeza and Chimbalanga were convicted of "gross indecency" and "unnatural acts" earlier in the week (I repeat — for holding a ceremony declaring their love to one another)

The BBC adds: "Defence lawyer Mauya Msuku had argued for a lighter sentence, pointing out that the pair's actions had not victimised anyone. "Unlike in a rape case, there was no complainant or victim in this case," he said after the pair were convicted on Tuesday. "Here are two consenting adults doing their thing in private. Nobody will be threatened or offended if they are released into society." Michelle Kagari, deputy Africa director of Amnesty International, called the sentence "an outrage", reports the AP news agency. She described the pair as "prisoners of conscience" and said Amnesty would continue to campaign for them to be freed."

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Dept. said it was "deeply disappointed" in the conviction.

Three UK Ministers, Henry Bellingham, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Stephen O'Brien, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, and Lynne Featherstone, Minister for Equality at the Home Office, have called for a Human Rights review of Malawi following the sentencing, saying

“We are deeply dismayed by the conviction for buggery and indecent practices of Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr Steven Monjeza. We are also very concerned by the allegations of their mistreatment in police custody. Malawi has made significant progress on human rights in recent years. The government has signed up to international human rights treaties and Malawi’s constitution protects the rights of all its citizens. Infringement of these rights is intolerable. The conviction and sentencing to the maximum 14 years’ imprisonment of Mr Chimbalanga and Mr Monjeza, runs counter to a positive trend. “Britain has a close and strong partnership with Malawi and it is in this spirit that we raise our concerns. The UK believes that human rights apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The UK urges the Government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure the defence of human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds. The UK, along with our international partners, will continue to press the Government of Malawi on this issue."

Watch CNN's report from earlier this week on their conviction, AFTER THE JUMP...

Posted May 20, 2010 at 6:57am ETC by Andy Towle
in Malawi, News