Police in Malawi have launched an operation to hunt down and arrest high-profile gays and lesbians in the southern African state.
Fears of an anti-gay backlash across Africa are intensifying after the prosecution of the first gay couple to seek marriage in Malawi, and thousands of Ugandans demonstrated this week in support of a bill proposing the death penalty for some offences involving homosexual acts. Last week five men were arrested at an alleged gay wedding in Kenya.
Dave Chingwalu, a spokesman for police in Malawi, said a 60-year-old man was arrested yesterday and charged with sodomy. Chingwalu said he received a complaint from a young man that he had been asked to undress by the older man and was then sodomised. Police investigations had uncovered a network of high-profile people involved homosexual acts, investigations were under way "and we will arrest them all", Chingwalu said.
Malawi has been criticised by international groups for the prosecution of Steven Monjeza, 26, and 20-year-old Tiwonge Chimbalanga, jailed in December for holding a wedding ceremony. The men were charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency and could be imprisoned for up to 14 years if found guilty.
A 21-year-old man was recently sentenced to two months' community service for putting up pro-gay rights posters, and a senior minister expelled a woman from her town even after a court acquitted her on charges of having sex with two girls.
Campaigners in Malawi say homophobic legislation is driving gays and lesbians underground, making them hard to reach with information that could protect them from Aids."In Malawi it's a complete witch-hunt that denies the people the right to self-determination," said Phumi Mtetwa, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, based in South Africa. "We are deeply concerned about this spate of homophobia across the continent."
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