Police in Malawi said Sunday they were hunting down key figures in the country's gay community after discovering "pornographic films" at the office of a rights group.
"We are targeting some prominent personalities and our suspects include legislators, priests, academics and other professionals," police spokesman Davie Chingwalu told AFP.
Chingwalu said police had been called after thieves broke into the office of a rights group which he did not name.
"At this hide-out, we discovered pornographic films, files and information about gay meetings. Our initial findings are that this office was patronised by a lot of prominent people and we immediately launched the probe to track down the gays," Chingwalu said.
He said the suspects would be charged with "having carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature" and "indecent practices between males".
Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and the country's one known gay group[sic]*, the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), operates underground.
However, Malawi's government does recognise the existence of gays and often calls on their help in the fight against the AIDS pandemic.
CEDEP has been financing the trial of Malawian gay couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who were charged with "indecent practices" for holding the country's first same-sex public wedding ceremony in December.
The couple, who pleaded not guilty, could face up to 14 years in prison if convicted.
The verdict is expected on March 22.
Meanwhile, a Facebook group, Malawi Gay Rights Network has been formed where members are joining after Information Minister Leckford Thotho challenged gays and homosexuality rights activists to come out in the open.
Administrator of the Malawi Gay Network group on Facebook, Dumiso Kapanga of University of Strathclyde, Glasgow said it is aimed a lobbying the government of Malawi to have a democratic and transparent debate about gay rights in the country.
“It is obvious that the current government seems to ignore this social problem without having the tenacity to address it democratically and transparently. The Malawi constitution provides the right to privacy and also not to be discriminated based on gender, race, religion even sexual orientation which are also part of the human rights convention which Malawi is signed for,” Kapanga told Nyasa Times.
“Based on democratic principles, it is obvious that the Malawi government is in breach of human rights principles by persecuting gay people or gay activists. Above all there is the so called freedom of expression where people have the right to express their views about a given subject,” he said.
He explained that the Malawi gay rights network group does not contain members that are gay only as such but “its’ a group that is concerned with the violation of human rights based on social misconceptions and prejudice… the world is changing and Malawi needs to change with the times. We can no longer choose to adopt some forms of democratic principles and ignore others which is obviously the case as far as the current debate regarding gay rights is concerned.”
Reporting by Felix Mponda, AFP — additional reporting by Thom Chiumia, Nyasa Times
NB: CEDEP are not a gay group. They are "a registered human rights organisation dedicated to addressing the needs, improving the lives, and providing support for some of Malawi's most neglected minority groups through civic education, training, capacity building, networking and research."