[Updated at 7:43 a.m.] A court in Malawi has found a gay couple guilty of gross indecency and unnatural acts, according to witnesses who heard the verdict Tuesday.
Sentencing will take place May 20. The two young men face up to 14 years of hard labor.
Steven Mojenza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were arrested in December at their home in Blantyre, Malawi, for professing their love in a traditional engagement ceremony. They were rounded up after news reports surfaced, charged under colonial-era sodomy laws and detained at Chichiru Prison without bail.
Their arrests received some popular support in the conservative southern African nation, but sparked outrage among gay rights activists and human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which have called for the release of the couple.
"We have a reached a point in Malawi where we need to decide whether we regard minority groups as equal to others in terms of their human rights," said Gift Trapence, executive director of the human rights group Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), who was in the courtroom Tuesday.
"Malawi is using laws brought in by the British," he said. "They need to be updated."
Lawyers hope to take the matter to the High Court.
Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi - as it is in most African nations - and government officials have said they are simply upholding the law.
"Most people are repugnant towards homosexuality," said Canaan Phiri, secretary general of the Malawi Council of Churches. "People do not declare their homosexuality because people are against this."
But activists in Malawi say the country's constitution - which outlaws discrimination - is being violated. The Malawi Law Society said the prosecution of the two men has been driven by prejudice - not jurisprudence.
[Posted at 6:41 a.m.] A Malawian couple has been found guilty of gross indecency and unnatural acts, according to a non-governmental association that witnessed the verdict Tuesday.
Sentencing will take place May 20.