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Malawi court dismisses gay couple's appeal case

Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga appear before a magistrate court in Blantyre January 4, 2010. REUTERS/Eldson Chagara

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - Malawi’s chief justice on Monday rejected a request from a gay couple charged with buggery and indecency for the constitutional court to review their case and magistrates will now announce their verdict on March 22.

Homosexuality in Africa has become a contentious issue in recent months after a Ugandan lawmaker proposed a bill including the death penalty for some acts, the arrest of the Malawian couple, and a police raid on a gay wedding in Kenya this month.

The Malawian couple, Steven Monjeza, 26 and 20-year old Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were arrested after they got engaged in a traditional ceremony in late December.

They have twice been refused bail during their trial and are held in a maximum security prison.

The pair’s lawyers had asked Chief Justice Lovemore Munlo to form a panel of three judges to determine if the charges they face are consistent with the country’s constitution.

But Munlo rejected the request and the magistrates who tried the case will announce their verdict on March 22 and, if the couple are found guilty, issue sentences.

Homosexuality in Malawi is criminal and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Mawuya Msuku, one of the lawyers for the couple, told Reuters the defence was not sure whether to appeal the ruling.

“When the ruling came out, we said let it be and have not bothered on what possibilities to explore rather than focusing on the criminal case in the lower court,” Msuku said.