Fears of backlash across Africa as US evangelists accused of spreading religious zeal behind homophobic campaigns:
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."
Mtetwa said the recent series of incidents was no accident but rather the work of US evangelical Christian groups. "It's very well calculated. It's exploding at the moment but it's been happening for a year and a half. We have proof of American evangelical churches driving the religious fundamentalism in Uganda."
The Ugandan parliament is considering a bill that would impose life imprisonment as the minimum punishment for anyone convicted of having gay sex. If the accused person is HIV positive or a serial offender, or a "person of authority" over the other partner, or if the "victim" is under 18, a conviction will result in the death penalty.
Members of the public are obliged to report any homosexual activity to police within 24 hours or risk up to three years in jail.
The legislation has earned international condemnation - Barack Obama described it as "odious" - but has received vocal backing within Uganda. Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Jinja, about 40 miles east of the capital, Kampala, in the biggest demonstration against homosexuals since the bill was introduced.
Okware Romano, a protester, said: "I have a verse in the bible in Leviticus 20 verse 13. It says that homosexuals should be put to death ... yes."
Last week police in Kenya said they had arrested five men whom they believed were homosexual in Kikambala beach resort near Mombasa. District officer George Matandura said two of the men had been found with wedding rings, attempting to get married.
"It is an offence, an unnatural offence, and also their behaviour is repugnant to the morality of the people," Matandura said.
The other three men were turned in to the police by members of the public. Two of them had reportedly been beaten.
Gay sex is illegal in 36 countries in Africa. Only South Africa has legalised same sex marriage, and even there campaigners say the fight against bigotry is far from over.
Link to story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/feb/16/malawi-operation-against-gays-lesbians