By REUTERS

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Amnesty International urged Malawi on Wednesday to release two men arrested last week after becoming the first gay couple to wed in the conservative southern African state, which bars homosexuality.

A Malawi court on Monday denied bail to Steve Mojeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga following their arrest on charges of public indecency over the December 26 symbolic traditional wedding.

 

In a statement, Amnesty International said the men's arrest was a violation of their rights to "freedom of conscience, expression, and privacy."

"Amnesty International considers individuals imprisoned solely for their consensual sexual relationship in private as prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate and unconditional release," it added.

The rights group also criticized what it said were attempts to carry out examinations on the men to establish if they had sexual intercourse.

"The arrest ... risks driving underground men who have sex with men in Malawi, making it more difficult for access to information on HIV prevention and health services," Amnesty said.

HIV/AIDS has killed more than 800,000 people in Malawi since the first case was reported in 1985, decimating a generation of the adult age group and leaving more than one million orphans.

On Wednesday Malawi police said the two men had been taken for psychiatric tests in ongoing investigations. They face a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison if convicted.

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