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Malawi gives gay couple 14 years in jail; public cheers

A Malawi court today sentenced a gay couple to 14 years in jail for practicing homosexuality. The case has brought criticism from the US and Europe, which provide more than 40 percent of Malawi's government budget.

By Joseph KayiraCorrespondent / May 20, 2010

Woman protest against a sentence given to two men in Malawi to 14 years in prison for practicing homosexuality, in Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday.

Schalk van Zuydam/AP

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Blantyre, Malawi

Malawians appear to widely support Thursday's sentencing of a gay couple here to 14 years in prison for practicing homosexuality, despite widespread condemnation of the case from human rights groups and foreign governments.

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Many Malawians say being gay is unnatural and unpatriotic, and they welcomed the jail sentence as a repudiation of secular culture.

“These practices should not be allowed in Malawi," says Rose Chipumphula, 25, a mother who lives in the village of Ntcheu. "Let us be proud of our culture. We should at all costs avoid importing cultures and practices that will harm us in future."

In a country where 80 percent of the population practices Christianity, homosexuality is widely condemned on religious grounds.

“My religion and my church are against same sex marriages. The Bible says he who finds a wife has found a good thing… It does not say the man who finds a man or a woman who finds a woman. This whole thing is un-Christian,” says Chipumphula.

At a church function here in April, President Bingu wa Mutharika said homosexuality is a new phenomenon in Malawi and asked priests to pray for the country to rid it of this “unMalawian” practice. Information Minister Sausten Namakhwa has said the government will arrest any homosexuals who identify themselves.

Criticism from financial donors US, UK

Thursday's conviction only highlights Malawi's discrimination toward homosexuals. Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa sentenced Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a 20-year-old hotel janitor, and his unemployed partner Steven Monjeza, 26, to the maximum 14 years imprisonment with hard labor, following their conviction Tuesday for “gross indecency” and “unnatural acts” under a British-colonial era law. They were arrested Dec. 26.

“I find that the state has established its case beyond reasonable doubt," Magistrate Usiwa said Thursday, adding that the acts were "against the order of nature." Both men were forced to undergo an involuntary anal examination and psychiatric evaluation.

Defense lawyers have not indicated if they will appeal.

The United States and Britain immediately condemned the sentencing.

"We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi," the US Embassy said in a statement today.

A joint statement from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was "deeply dismayed by the conviction." Despite progress on human rights in recent years, today's sentencing "runs counter to a positive trend," the statement reads.

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