Malawi denies same-sex couple bail

2010-01-05 11:58

­TWO gay men were yesterday denied bail in court in Malawi, where they face charges of engaging in homosexual sex, which is outlawed in the country.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who recently became the first same-sex couple in the country to marry, will remain in police custody until a fresh bail application is brought in a week’s time.

The were arrested on December 28, two days after their traditional wedding. Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwausiwa told the court the men were being charged with contravening laws that forbid homosexual practices.

“The first count is carnal knowledge against the order of nature while the second count is consent to have sexual acts like wife and husband. In alternative, the other count is that of indecent practices,” Usiwausiwa said.

Chimbalanga and Monjeza pleaded not guilty to the crimes, which carry a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment with hard labour.

Usiwausiwa gave prosecutors 10 days for further investigation. The state had initially demanded 14 days.

Defence lawyer Mauya Msuku asked the court to consider granting bail to his clients, saying the state was supposed to have gathered enough evidence before arresting them.

“The state should have done their homework before on evidence gathering before bringing the suspects to court. Even if the suspects were guilty, which they are not, it is their right to be granted bail,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Chrispine Sibande said the legality of the arrests could be challenged in the high court because it was inconsistent with Malawi’s constitution.

“Since 1994, as a country we agreed to adopt human rights, which include life in diversity. To deny somebody any sexual right, including homosexuality, is a violation of human rights,” Sibande said.

According to the Centre for Development of People (CEDEP), many people practice homosexuality in secrecy in Malawi because of the prohibitive laws.

CEDEP director Gift Trapeace said laws that bar homosexuality contradict provisions in the constitution that discourage discrimination on the basis of sexuality.

The Chimbalanga-Monjeza marriage has divided Malawi, which is predominantly built on Christian values. There was public outrage when the pair became engaged at a lodge in Blantyre, with people describing their conduct as unnatural and strange.  

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