Malawi gay couple sentenced to 14 years in prison for wedding

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Couple homosexuel du Malawi condamné à 14 ans de prison pour s'être marié.

by Felix Mponda – Thu May 20, 4:03 pm ET

BLANTYRE (AFP) – A Malawi gay couple was sentenced Thursday to the maximum 14 years in prison with hard labour, after being convicted of sodomy for holding the country's first same-sex wedding.
Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were arrested on December 28 after their symbolic wedding and accused of violating "the order of nature". They have been in jail ever since and the sentence was condemned as an "outrage" by rights group Amnesty International.
Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and most other African countries.
"I sentence you to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour each," magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa told the two men in a courtroom in the commercial capital Blantyre.
"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," the judge added.
"Malawi is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons."
The couple looked subdued when the judge handed down the sentence and were quickly rushed out of the packed courtroom.
As a heavy police contingent escorted them away, hundreds of onlookers outside the court shouted at them, with one woman yelling: "Malawi should never allow homosexuality at any cost."
The sentence could be appealed, said the judge.
Former colonial power Britain, the United States and Ireland expressed "deep disappointment" at the ruling.
"We view the criminalisation of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi," the US State Department said in a statement.
"The sentence is entirely disproportionate and against international human rights principles," said Ireland's overseas development minister Peter Power.
"We are working with our partners for a strong EU response," he added.
Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries. Nearby South Africa is the only country on the continent to recognise same-sex marriages.
Thirty-eight out of 53 countries criminalise consensual gay sex, which is punishable by death in some nations, according to Human Rights Watch.
In January, the Malawi couple appealed to the Constitutional Court to throw out the case, but the top court refused to consider that appeal.
Their lawyer Mauya Msuku, who has been hired by the country's underground gay-rights group, the Centre for the Development of People, argued that laws banning homosexuality "violate the right to marry and find a family".
Msuku said he would consult with his clients on filing a new appeal.
In unusually graphic language, Usiwa Usiwa convicted Monjeza of "having carnal knowledge of Tiwonge through the anus, which is against the order of nature."
Chimbalanga was found guilty of "permitting buggery", which the judge said was similarly contrary to the natural order.
Human rights organisations said the sentence was a blow for minority groups and the fight against AIDS.
Amnesty International said the sentence was an "outrage" and vowed to campaign for the release of the two men.
"This sentence sends a strong and unacceptable message that discrimination is legally justified in the Malawi justice system," said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy Africa director.
Undule Mwakasungura, director of Malawi's Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, said the sentence would drive gays into hiding.
"We have many of them who need to publicly access information and HIV and AIDS medical care. It's a big let-down," he said.
Richard Bridgen of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre said the sentencing was a "real tragedy for Malawian society."
"The deep point is that they have the right to be different... the right to live the life they choose," said Bridgen.
But Protestant churches in Malawi have urged the government to uphold its ban on homosexuality, which religious leaders described as "un-Christian".

Source: AFP.


Malawi gay couple sentenced to 14 years in jail
By Mabvuto Banda – Thu May 20, 8:38 pm ET
Writing by Marius Bosch and Phumza Macanda, Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Dean Goodman in Los Angeles; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Peter Cooney.

LILONGWE (Reuters) – A Malawi gay couple was sentenced on Thursday to 14 years each in jail after being convicted on sodomy and indecency charges, and Washington swiftly condemned the court decision as "unconscionable."
The couple, Steven Monjeza, 26, and 20-year-old Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were arrested after they got engaged in a traditional ceremony in late December. They were tried and found guilty earlier this week in a trial viewed as a test case for gay rights in the southern African country.
"I sentence these two ... to a maximum sentence because I want us to stop Malawian sons and daughters from copying the same-sex marriages which are un-Malawian and not in our culture and religious beliefs," Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Uisiwausiwa said.
"This is the first case of its kind in Malawi ... this is the worst case of its kind," he added.
Major donors to aid-dependent Malawi have condemned what they called the abuse of human rights in the nation, particularly a crackdown on gay rights, and warned that abuses could affect budget support.
"The United States strongly condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing," Robert Gibbs, President Barack Obama's press secretary, said in a statement.
"The criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity is unconscionable, and this case mars the human rights record of Malawi," he said. "We urge Malawi and all countries to stop using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for arrest, detention, or execution."
Rights group Amnesty International called on Tuesday for the immediate and unconditional release of the couple, saying their human rights had been flagrantly violated.
U.S. pop singer Madonna, who adopted a boy from Malawi, said the country "took a giant step backward," and called on its "progressive" citizens to challenge the decision.
Malawi
gay activist Udule Mwakasungura said the sentence may dent the country's image.
"Malawi is a signatory to treaties that protect minority rights and this sentence is unfortunate and may affect our global standing on human rights," he said.
Homosexuality in Africa has become a contentious issue in recent months after a Ugandan lawmaker proposed a bill including the death penalty for some acts, the arrest of the Malawian couple, and a police raid on a gay wedding in Kenya earlier this year.
Dozens of people packed the court to hear the sentencing. Police closed roads around the building and a nearby bank was closed as more than a thousand people descended on the court.
Tiwonge was calm as the judge pronounced the sentence, which includes hard labor, but Monjeza was visibly shaking at the prospect of going to jail. Police whisked the two away in armed vehicles shortly after the sentencing.
Mauya Msuku, the couple's lawyer, said he would appeal the ruling pending a consultation with his clients.

Source: Reuters.

Publié dans Life

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