Lawyers for Malawi’s convicted first openly gay couple and human rights groups said they plan to appeal to the country’s high court against the harsh sentence handed the couple.
Malawi Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa Thursday sentenced Steven Monjeza and his partner Tiwonge Chimbalanga to 14 years in jail with hard labor after they were convicted for what the judge reportedly called having sex against the order of nature and gross indecency.
In Washington, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was appalled by the sentence and called on the Malawian government to respect the human rights of all its citizens.
Undule Mwakasungura, executive director of the Malawi Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, who was in the courtroom when the sentence was delivered, said the gay couple’s human rights were violated.
“We are disappointed with the ruling today by the magistrate because we feel the sentence is too harsh and unacceptable in two ways. We believe the gay couple should not have been given a maximum of 14 years because this is not a serious offense. We feel the whole process has not been fair to them in terms of their human rights,” he said
Mwakasungura also cited the fact that the couple was denied bail even though he said Malawian courts had been granting bail in more serious cases like murder and treason.
“What we are saying is that this is not a serious offense. Why were they being denied bail? Bail is a constitutional right. And we are saying the same court had been giving bail to criminals, those with murder charges, some cases which are not even supposed to be given bail. For example, the treason case was given bail. So, why not them actually? Why were they being kept in custody when they should have been given bail? Mwakasungura said.
He said the gay couple are Malawians and human beings and should be accorded the same human rights like every other Malawian,”
Mwakasungura said the case was influenced and politicized by Malawian government authorities.
“The whole trial had been politicized by the higher authorities because the whole government was not for the gay couple to be released. Even the judiciary was playing in the hands of the authorities,” he said.
Mwakasungura said repeated comments by Malawian government officials against homosexuality, even while the case was being tried, might have influenced the judge to give the maximum sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labor.
He said his organization and other human rights groups plan to appeal the sentencing to the Malawi high court.
“Our organization, the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, and our partner, the Center for the Development of People, we will be meeting with our lawyers today to see how we can put forward an appeal. We have agreed already that we will be appealing to the high court. We pray that the high court might decide to lessen the sentence or even completely release them from jail,” Mwakasungura said.
Mwakasungura disagreed with Magistrate Usiwa-Usiwa who reportedly said during the sentencing that the Malawian society did not want to see its sons getting married to other sons.
Mwakasungura said sending the gay couple to jail for 14 years would not change their sexual orientation. Instead, he said the solution is for Malawi to stop the hatred toward gay people.