Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Times: Court convicts gay marriage couple [in Malawi]
Wednesday, 19th May 2010; Felix Mponda, AFP

A Malawi court yesterday convicted a gay couple who staged an illegal same-sex wedding of violating "the order of nature", which could land them with up to 14 years in prison.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were arrested on December 28 following a symbolic wedding and have been in jail ever since. Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, as in most African countries.

"The state has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the two were married," Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa said during the more than three-hour hearing in the southern African country's capital.

The judge convicted both men of engaging in gay sex which he said was "against the order of nature", adding that their sentence would be handed down tomorrow.

In unusually graphic language, the judge convicted Mr Monjeza of "having carnal knowledge of Tiwonge through the anus, which is against the order of nature."

Mr Chimbalanga was found guilty of "permitting buggery", which the judge said was similarly contrary to natural order.

The couple gave no reaction as the ruling was read out. Both were well-dressed but handcuffed before the courtroom packed with local and international media, with a heavy police presence outside the court.

Prosecutor Barbra Mchenga urged the judge to hand down the maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, saying "their offence was well planned and well executed".

"The case has left a scar on Malawi's morality," she said. "The two did not show any remorse or regret for their actions. They seem to have been very proud of their action".

The couple's lawyer Mauya Msuku pleaded for leniency.

"They were first offenders, and although the charge was a felony, it was a technical offence and they have already paid for their offence since they have been in jail since December," he said.

In January, Dr Msuku appealed to the Constitutional Court to toss out the case, saying his clients had a constitutional "right to privacy, dignity, belief, conscience and self-expression".

Dr Msuku, who has been hired by the country's underground gay rights group Centre for the Development of People (Cedep), argued that laws banning homosexuality "violate the right to marry and find a family".

But the top court refused to consider that appeal.

The trial included often lurid questioning by prosecutors, who asked witnesses for graphic details about Mr Chimbalanga's body because he wears women's clothes and lives his life as a female.

The proceedings have attracted great public interest in conservative Malawi. About 300 curious onlookers gathered outside the court in downtown Blantyre, hoping to see the couple.

Around a dozen police kept the crowd outside the courtroom. The couple were taken back to jail through a back door.

While international donors have expressed concern about the trial, Protestant churches have urged the government to uphold its ban on homosexuality, which religious leaders described as "un-Christian".

The Malawi case has highlighted a toughening stance across Africa against homosexuality.

Thirty-eight out of 53 countries criminalise consensual gay sex, which is punishable by death in some nations, according to Human Rights Watch.

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