Gay couple sentenced to 14 years in Malawi

A judge today sentenced a couple to the maximum 14 years in prison for unnatural acts and gross indecency under Malawi's anti-gay legislation.

The harsh sentence had been expected after the same judge convicted Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza earlier this week under laws dating from the colonial era.

Chimbalanga, a 20-year-old hotel janitor, and his unemployed partner were arrested Dec. 27, the day after they celebrated their engagement with a party at the hotel where Chimbalanga worked — an apparent first in Malawi.

Michelle Kagari, deputy Africa director of Amnesty International called the sentence "an outrage."

Her rights watchdog has adopted Chimbalanga and Monjeza as prisoners of conscience, and would "continue to campaign on this matter and to work tirelessly to see that they are released unconditionally as soon as possible," Kagari told The Associated Press by telephone from her office in Kampala, Uganda.

Malawi's government has been defiant in the face of international criticism over the couple's prosecution.

Homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 countries in Africa including Malawi. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill under which homosexuals could be sentenced to life in prison and "repeat offenders" could be executed. Even in South Africa, the only African country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have raped lesbians.

Gay people forced underground in Africa are unlikely to seek counseling and treatment for AIDS, activists say. In Malawi, nearly 1 million people — an estimated 12 percent of the population — are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.