Madonna condemns jailing of Gay Malawi couple

Madonna today condemned a Malawian court decision to jail a gay couple for 14 years - and demanded it be challenged "in the name of human dignity".

The two men were handed the maximum sentence yesterday, which included hard labour, under Malawi's anti-gay laws.

The case of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza has drawn international condemnation and ignited a human rights debate about the conservative southern African country.

The couple were arrested the day after their engagement party, and were jeered by a mob as they were driven to prison.

Madonna called upon the people of Malawi and around the world to challenge the ruling which she described as a "giant step backward".

The singer said: "I am shocked and saddened by the decision made... by the Malawian court, which sentenced two innocent men to prison.

"As a matter of principle, I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race, colour, religion, or sexual orientation."

She said of the decision: "Malawi took a giant step backward.

"The world is filled with pain and suffering; therefore, we must support our basic human right to love and be loved.

"I call upon the progressive men and women of Malawi - and around the world - to challenge this decision in the name of human dignity and equal rights for all."

Madonna has taken a keen interest in issues in Malawi and has two adopted children from the country, David Banda and Chifundo "Mercy" James.

Two years ago her documentary about the devastating effects of Aids in Malawi titled I Am Because We Are, was screened during the Cannes Film Festival.

"I went to Malawi thinking I was going to save children's lives," Madonna said previously.

"But the surprise was how much they changed me and how much growth occurred inside of me."