Malawi gay couple 'has a case'

2010-03-22 19:25

Blantyre - A Malawi gay couple facing charges of buggery and indecency after getting engaged in a traditional ceremony late last year have a case to answer, a magistrate court ruled on Monday.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have twice been refused bail and are held in a maximum security prison following their arrest in a case widely viewed as a test case for gay rights in the conservative southern African nation.

"In the balance of probability the State has established a prima-facie case against the two as charged," magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa told a packed court which attracted diplomats and rights activists on Monday, before adjourning the case to April 3.

Homosexuality is a crime in Malawi and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. The country's chief justice last month dismissed the couple's appeal against the case.

Last week aid-dependent Malawi's major donors condemned what they called the abuse of human rights in the southern African nation, particularly a crackdown on gay rights, and warned that abuses could affect budget support.