A gay couple convicted of having homosexual sex in Malawi have received the maximum 14-year jail sentence.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were told by a judge they would also serve hard labour as a warning to other gay people in the country.

The couple were convicted on Tuesday of unnatural acts and gross indecency after being arrested in December.

Associated Press reports that magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa told them: “I sentence you to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour each. That’s the maximum under the penal code.

“I will give you a scaring sentence so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are not tempted to emulate this horrendous example,” he added.

The pair pleaded not guilty to the charges and were held in prison without bail for four and a half months.

On Tuesday, the Malawian minister of information, Leckford Mwanza Thotho, said the government was pleased at the conviction.

“What we are saying is that the ruling or the court proceeding as of today, reflects our tradition in Malawi. It just shows that the gay issue is against our culture in Malawi,” he said.

Amnesty International called for their immediate release and said their rights have been “flagrantly violated.”

British Foreign Office ministers also expressed their concern at the conviction.

A joint statement from junior Foreign Office ministers Henry Bellingham and Stephen O’Brien and junior equality minister Lynne Featherstone said: “We are deeply dismayed by the conviction for buggery and indecent practices of Mr Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Mr Steven Monjeza.

“We are also very concerned by the allegations of their mistreatment in police custody.

The UK urges the government of Malawi to review its laws to ensure the defence of human rights for all, without discrimination on any grounds. The UK, along with our international partners, will continue to press the government of Malawi on this issue.’