Scotland is urged to act after Malawi police arrest gay couple for marrying

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HUMAN rights campaigners have called on the Scottish Government to intervene following the arrest of two men who became the first gay couple to marry in Malawi. Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza publicly wed in a traditional ceremony on Saturday.

However, homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and they have since been arrested, charged with gross public indecency, and detained.

Scotland provides about 3 million in funding to Malawi each year, building on aid work initiated by former First Minister Jack McConnell.

Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, told The Scotsman there should be "no blank cheque" for countries that "violate human rights".

"I hope the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond will call for the dropping of all charges," he said.

"If he can make representations to the Malawian ambassador in London and directly to the Malawian president I'm sure it will help ease these men's plight.

"There's nothing indecent about two men getting married."

He added that he hoped the injustice could be resolved by "diplomatic negotiations" but said: "If that fails the UK should reconsider its aid and trade agreements with Malawi."

"There can be no blank cheque for countries that violate human rights," he added.

Homosexuality carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years in Malawi.

Dave Chingwalu, a Malawian police spokesman, said the two men were arrested on Monday night and would be held until further investigations had taken place.

"We arrested them… at their home and charged them with gross public indecency because the practice is against the law," he said.

Ros Micklem, Scottish director of the Equality and Humans Rights Commission, also called on the Scottish Government to speak out against the discrimination.

"In our view, criminalising homosexuality is a major barrier to equality and people's fundamental human rights," she said.

"This is a view we hope all ambassadors from both Scottish and UK governments not only share but today, and in the coming weeks, will express clearly to their counterparts in Malawi."

Patrick Harvie, the Green MSP who has campaigned on equal rights for same-sex couples, said it was a "grim reality" that many countries still persecute people "simply because of who they love" and called for Scotland to set an example.

However, a Scottish Government spokesman declined to become involved, saying: "The Scottish Government's co-operation agreement with the government of Malawi identifies priority areas for our development funding, aimed at helping some of the world's poorest people.

"Any other internal issues are a matter for the government of Malawi."