The trial of two gay men arrested for holding a wedding party in Malawi is expected to begin on January 15th.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza are being held in custody in Chichiri Prison and were denied bail by a judge yesterday in the city of Blantyre.

Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa said the couple were at risk from mob violence if they were released, although this claim was rejected by their lawyers.

He said they would be bailed by January 10th if prosecutors had finished investigating them.

The pair had a traditional engagement ceremony in the south African country on Saturday December 26th and were arrested two days later.

Malawi punishes homosexuality with up to 14 years in prison.

According to gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, who is in contact with campaigners in the country, the men will deny the three charges of unnatural practices between males and gross indecency.

He said they would challenge the prosecution on the grounds that it is illegal under the equal rights and non-discrimination clauses of the Malawian constitution.

In a news release, Tatchell said the couple had been jeered in court and disowned by their families.

He said they were suffering “appalling” conditions in prison and are being threatened with forced physical examinations to determine whether they have had sex.

But he added that they had been given food and money by supporters and a legal term had been assembled.

Their case is being helped by the Malawian human rights group, the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP).

The centre’s executive director, Gift Trapence, told PinkNews.co.uk the men’s lawyers are fighting for the trial to be held in a higher court where more judges are sitting.

He said: “Because of the penal code in Malawi, gays are seen as unnatural. They are not visible.

“This is the first case. There is a lot of attention in Malawi and lots of newspaper coverage. Gays are afraid of the law, they are not open, they are not visible.

“The problem is the violence is there but it is not reported. There are lots of blackmail issues. They think they will be prosecuted.

Trapence added that arrests such as this would hamper HIV prevention work.

An administrator for CEDEP was arrested yesterday on charges that the centre’s safer sex HIV education materials are pornographic.

Tatchell described the charges as “trumped up” and said the arrest was “almost certainly in retaliation” for CEDEP’s public support of Chimbalanga and Monjeza.

The group called today for a nationwide referendum on homosexuality, saying that consensus was needed.

UK-based gay rights group OutRage! is collecting donations to be sent to the couple’s legal team in Malawi.

To send a donation, post a cheque payable to OutRage! to OutRage!, PO Box 17816, London SW14 8WT. Enclose a note giving your name and address and stating that your donation is for the Malawi Defence Campaign. OutRage! will pass all money donated to the couple’s defence team in Malawi.