Washington: The United States has "strongly condemned" the conviction and harsh sentencing of a gay couple in Malawi, and asked the African nation and other countries to stop using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for arrest, detention or execution.
"The United States strongly condemns the conviction and harsh sentencing of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in Malawi," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.
A Malawi court on Wednesday sentenced Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, to 14 years of imprisonment with hard labour. The duo have been in jail since they were arrested in December after holding an engagement ceremony.
"The criminalisation of sexual orientation and gender identity is unconscionable, and this case mars the human rights record of Malawi. We urge Malawi and all countries to stop using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for arrest, detention, or execution," Gibbs said.
The conviction and sentencing are a significant step backward for the Malawi Government`s human rights record, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said.
"We view the criminalisation of sexual orientation and gender identity and sentencing to 14 years hard labour as a deeply troubling violation of human rights. Decriminalisation of homosexuality is integral to the continued protection of universal human rights in Malawi," he said.
"It is also crucial to the urgent need to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS - a fight in which the United States is closely allied with the Malawian people."
The US State Department would continue to stand against any efforts to marginalise, criminalise, and penalise members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans-gender community worldwide, Crowley added.
"We urge Malawi and all countries with similar laws to take the necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular arrests, detentions, or executions," the official added.