The Blantyre Magistrates Court will on Tuesday deliver judgement in a case involving gay couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and his partner Steven Monjeza.
Chimbalanga, 20, and Monjeza, 26, made history when they tied the knot in a traditional chinkhoswe marriage ceremony in December. They became the first same-sex couple to do so in Malawi where homosexual acts are illegal.
If convicted by Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa, the gay couple could face a lengthy jail sentence of up to 14 years’ hard labour.
But the two have vowed to become martyrs rather than give in to homophobia, according to Peter Tatchell, the veteran British gay rights campaigner, who has maintained contact with the pair at the maximum security Chichiri Prison in Blantyre.
Tatchell said he had received a defiant message from Chimbalanga that said: “I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”
A British broadsheet, The Guardian quoted angry residents and relatives from Machinjiri township, on the outskirts of Blantyre, saying they would not allow them to return home if freed.
“They have given this township a bad name,” said Maikolo Phiri, a local vendor.
Zione Monjeza, an aunt of Monjeza, said: “We as a family have been terribly embarrassed to be associated with this gay thing. It’s a curse and a big shame. We will chase them away if they are freed.”
Nchiteni Monjeza, Steve’s uncle, said: “I won’t drop a tear if they are jailed – they deserve it.”
But for others, the couple are social revolutionaries in this impoverished, landlocked nation that usually makes headlines only when someone like Madonna flies in, reportedThe Guardian.
The paper also quoted a retired economist George Thindwa, head of the Association for Secular Humanism: “The gay movement is gaining ground. The country should simply accept gays.”
Thindwa’s group has joined the Centre for the Development of the People, which is financing the couple’s defence. The case could be seen as a test case for the struggle between gay rights movements and resistant conservative sentiment across the continent.
Bishop Joseph Bvumbwe, chairman of the Malawi Council of Churches, has accused western donors of trying to use aid as a ruse to force Malawi to legalise homosexuality.
President Bingu wa Mutharika is also on record to condemn homosexuality.