Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the Malawian couple sentenced last week to 14 years in prison with hard labour, have been separated by the authorities.

Previously, the couple were held together in Chichiri prison. Although they were in separate cells, they were allowed occasional contact. Today however, Mr Monjeza was transferred to the notorious Zomba prison.

Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “The decision by Malawian authorities to split up [the] jailed lovers. . . is a cruel, malicious and vindictive attempt to cause the couple psychological stress and heartache.” He added: “Now they will have no contact at all. This move will be particularly hard for Steven. Of the two, he is more vulnerable and stressed. Tiwonge, in contrast, is robust and resilient.”

Mr Tatchell also said that anecdotal reports suggested many Malawains thought the sentence too harsh, despite the widespread national belief that homosexuality is a sin. Lawyers for Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga are optimistic that their appeal may be heard around the end of June, and even suggested Mr Monjeza might be returned to Chichiri prison by the beginning of the appeal process.

However, Mr Tatchell said he remained “sceptical”. He added: “My fear is that the appeal court may reduce the jail term but not revoke it.”