Monday, January 25, 2010

Gay Couple Face 14 Years In Malawi Prison

A new crackdown on homosexuality in parts of Africa has forced gay communities into hiding, fearing for their lives.

In Malawi, two men who dared to go public with their relationship by holding a traditional "marriage" ceremony are on trial for indecency, and face 14 years in jail.

"It's so scary," one gay man, who didn't want to be identified, told Sky News in the city of Blantyre, where the trial is taking place.
"We are not feeling free and are worried about being arrested.

It is the first case to be brought under Malawi's longstanding legislation banning homosexuality in years.

The rise of US style evangelist preachers has contributed to a hardening of attitudes in the tiny southern African state.

"Biblically it is demonic," pastor Stanley Ndovi said, flipping through the pages of his bible to show me the passages that condemn homosexuality.

"It is wrong and these people should be counselled and helped."

Inside his church on the outskirts of Blantyre, his congregation laughed when he told them that Sky News had come to talk to him about "gay rights".

At best, homosexuality is viewed as a mental illness in Malawi, at worst a form of Satanism with the power to infect the entire population.

"In the West you have allowed homosexuality and it has spread," pastor Ndovi said.

The gay couple on trial are considered such a risk to the public that they have been denied bail and are handcuffed every time they appear in court, jeered by the crowds as they're led to the dock.

"Sometimes I think it would be better to kill myself," another gay man said. "We are not even treated as human."

Malawi is not alone in its new hardline approach to gays and lesbians. Uganda is considering introducing legislation that would result in the death penalty for some "homosexual offences".

The Ugandan government has tried to distance itself from the plan after criticism from its biggest donor, the United States.

Rwanda is also seeking to tighten the laws banning homosexuality.

The crackdown has alarmed human rights campaigners and health workers who are trying to combat the spread of HIV and Aids.

In Malawi, 10% of the general population is HIV positive, with the figure rising to 25% among homosexual men.

There are fears that the gay community will be too scared to come forward to be tested, fearing reprisals from the state.

Just one African nation, South Africa, specifically safeguards the rights of lesbians and gays.

But even there, there have been attacks on gay men, and lesbians have been subjected to so-called "corrective rape".

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