Malawi gay couple denied bail for ‘own protection’

A court in Malawi on Monday denied bail to two men arrested after becoming the first gay couple to marry in the conservative African country.

Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa told a packed court that he could not grant the couple bail, saying the ruling was for their own protection. “The public out there is angry with them,” Usiwausiwa said.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza committed to marriage in a symbolic ceremony in southern Malawi last month, attracting hundreds of onlookers. They were arrested at the home they share and charged with unnatural practices between males and gross public indecency.

Government prosecutors had asked the court to detain the couple for a longer period to allow for more investigations.

Police said the two men had been taken for medical tests to prove whether they had sexual intercourse. The men’s lawyer has pledged to resist any such tests. “Unless they give their consent to the medical examination, we will protest,” Noel Supedi said.

The case has generated huge interest in Malawi. Suzanne Worrica, a British spectator in court, said: “The crowd atmosphere was again hostile, taunting Tiwonge and Steven, although some gay rights campaigners were present, who gave them money.”

Campaigners have described the case as symbolic of a return to conservative attitudes to homosexuality in parts of Africa. Uganda is debating the introduction of the death penalty for some offences.

Chimbalanga and Monjeza have pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. They claim they have been abused in jail. “They beat us up here,” Chimbalanga told the Times last weekend. “Why? We have done no wrong. If they say we have broken laws, why not let the courts judge us?”

Chimbalanga, who dresses in a blouse and describes himself as a woman, said that they became engaged after “my darling, Steven, proposed love to me and we agreed to get married”. He added: “I love my husband and laws should not prohibit love.” But Monjeza has expressed doubts about the public stand he has taken and suggested he might back out of the relationship.

Homosexuality is banned in Malawi and carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence. The trial of the two men has been set for next week. –

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