BLANTYRE, Malawi — Police in Malawi say they have arrested a man in what they describe as a sweep against homosexuals.
There is a debate over gay rights in this conservative southern African country, sparked by the trial of a gay couple charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency, felonies for which they could be imprisoned for up to 14 years.
Police spokesman Dave Chingwalu said the 60-year-old man arrested Monday has been charged with sodomy. Chingwalu said he received a complaint from a young man that he had been asked to undress by the 60-year-old, and was then sodomized.
Chingwalu said police investigations have uncovered a network of high-profile people who are involved homosexual acts. He said investigations are under way "and we will arrest them all."
The hunt, arrests and prosecution of homosexuals comes amid a growing local and international campaign for Malawi to "go easy" on gays and lesbians.
A 21-year-old man was recently sentenced to two months of community service after being caught pasting 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.
Malawi's government has been criticized by international groups for the prosecution of Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, jailed since their arrest Dec. 27, the day they celebrated their engagement with a party that drew crowds of curious onlookers.
A group of Malawian human rights activists recently formed the Center for the Development of People to fight for the rights of homosexuals and other minorities. The group says studies show that because of homophobic legislation, gays and lesbians are driven underground making them hard to reach with information that could protect them from AIDS.
Another group, Broad Coalition, has distributed leaflets, posters and pictures promoting gay rights – but keeps the names of its members secret.
Mauya Msuku, the couple's lawyer, said the laws under which Monjeza and Chimbalanga were charged were archaic and unconstitutional.
Msuku has asked the country's chief justice for a constitutional review. Malawi's government has been unapologetic.
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Culture whose Parliament has condemned Malawi's "harassment" of gays, is now visiting Malawi. It is not clear if she will address the issue as she interacts with Malawian officials.
In Africa, only South Africa has legalized same-sex marriage, and in South Africa the gap between the liberal constitution and societal attitudes can be wide. Uganda will soon debate a proposed law that would impose the death penalty on some gays, though Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has told colleagues he believes the bill is too harsh and a Cabinet minister has called – so far unsuccessfully – for the bill to be scrapped.