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Malawi Court Convicts Gay Couple of Unnatural Acts

A court in Malawi has convicted two men for homosexuality and each faces up to 14 years in prison. The case has sparked debate between human-rights organizations in Malawi and traditional and religious groups there.

The Malawian judge, Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa, in Blantyre convicted the gay couple of unnatural acts and gross indecency. He set sentencing for Thursday.

The two men, Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, were arrested in December after participating in a traditional wedding ceremony.

Homosexuality is considered taboo in most African societies. It is illegal in Malawi and two-thirds of Africa's 53 states.

Human-rights groups have defended the two men, saying they were charged under an outdated law and their conviction violates their individual rights.

But religious groups in the country urged the government to convict the men, saying their relationship was un-Godly.

The men have reportedly have been rejected by many members of their families and community.

The director of Blantyre's Institute for Policy Interaction, Rafiq Hajat, said the Malawian government was in many ways caught in the middle of the controversy.

"There is tension growing between the conservatives, the puritans, and civil society and human-rights advocates. In addition the fray has been joined by church organizations," he said. "And as you know the faith community has historically played a very important role in Malawi's political and social life."

Malawi has signed the international convention on human rights that protects the rights of homosexuals, among others.

Western governments have urged leniency in the matter. Some international donors had said they would review their aid programs to Malawi if the two men were convicted.

Foreign-based gay and lesbian groups have rallied to the cause of the two men and reportedly are supporting them with food and other donations.