Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Malawi arrests 'gay-poster' man

Map of Malawi

Malawian police have arrested a man for putting up gay-rights posters, amid a national debate over homosexuality - which is banned in Malawi.

Peter Sawali had put up posters saying: "Gay rights are human rights", on a main road in Blantyre, police said.

He was charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of peace.

A controversy has erupted in the country after a gay couple were prosecuted for public indecency because they got engaged.

Police spokesman Dave Chingwalu told the Associated Press news agency Mr Sawali's poster campaign had backing from foreign organisations.

"We are still investigating because we believe there is a chain of people who were working with Mr Sawali," he said.

"We cannot rule out international sponsors because of the quality and the quantity of the posters."

Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 04/10
Steven Monjeza (L) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga (R) face 14 years in jail

Mr Sawali faces a fine or a short jail term if found guilty.

The prosecution of the engaged couple has provoked a rare public debate on homosexuality.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, believed to be the first gay couple in Malawi to start the marriage process, pleaded not guilty and their trial is due to start soon.

They say they have been tortured while in jail, and rights groups have criticised Malawi over the case.

Homosexual acts carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years.

Correspondents say some voices in government have started to call for more openness about homosexuality as the authorities try to tackle high rates of HIV/Aids.

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