Human rights organisation Amnesty International has joined the calls for a gay couple in Malawi to be released from prison.

The group said that Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who were arrested on December 28th, were “prisoners of conscience” and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

The couple were arrested after holding an engagement ceremony in Blantyre. Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi and punishable by 14 years in prison.

Amnesty also said that attempts by the Malawian authorities to subject them to forcible medical examinations to establish if they had had sex contravened prohibitions on torture.

The pair were to be examined on Monday but authorities were unable to find an expert to do so.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have committed no criminal offence and should be immediately and unconditionally released.

“The Malawian authorities’ attempt to subject them to forcible anal examinations is appalling. Such practices, and the criminalisation of homosexuality in Malawi should be ended without delay.”

Monjeza and Chimbalanga are being held in custody at Chichiri prison, apparently to protect them from mob attacks.

Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa said they would be bailed by January 10th if prosecutors had finished investigating them. They are expected to go on trial on January 15th.

Yesterday, the executive director of a Malawian human rights group told PinkNews.co.uk about the dangers for gays in the country.

Gift Trapence, of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP), 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 is reportedly being sought by police for “pornographic” materials used by the centre to educate gay men about HIV.

An administrator for CEDEP, Bunker Kamba, was arrested this week on the same charge.

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