/ 19 January 2010

Malawi backs trial of newly wed gay couple

Malawi on Tuesday defended the country’s first trial of a newly wed gay couple charged with “gross indecency”, saying they were being tried in a court of law and under existing laws.

“We are a sovereign country with own laws,” Information Minister Leckford Thotho said.

“Our laws criminalise homosexuality, and what the two did was clearly breaking the laws of Malawi,” Thotho said in a statement.

The government was reacting for the first time three weeks after Tiwonge Chimbalanga (20) and Steven Monjeza (26) were arrested and charged with “gross indecency” after conducting Malawi’s first public gay wedding.

The two, who face up to 14 years in prison if convicted, have pleaded not guilty to the charge but are still in police custody after a magistrates’ court denied them bail.

“Despite Malawi depending on international aid, the country is a sovereign country with its own laws and must not be influenced by the West in the running of its affairs of state,” said Thotho.

“As government we cannot interfere in the court process. We depend on our Western friends, yes, but we are a sovereign country with our own laws.”

The men’s lawyers have argued that the penal code under which they were charged “is unconstitutional as it is against the spirit of the Constitution”.

Last week, the pair asked the Constitutional Court to hear their case, arguing that their detention violated their legally protected rights.

But the judge hearing their case insisted on proceeding with their trial until the higher court decides whether to accept their appeal. The trial resumes on Monday.

Monjeza and Chimbalanga’s five-month relationship has shocked the conservative nation where homosexuality is banned and where sex topics are still largely taboo.

The pair has not applied for legal recognition of their wedding. — Sapa-AFP