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The Conservative government has become a defender of gay rights overseas, this time blasting an invited African guest for jailing homosexuals.

Days after Ottawa extended a special invitation to Malawi for the G20 summit, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon criticized the country for jailing a gay couple for 14 years under the country's anti-homosexual law.

"Cases like this are cases we condemn," Mr. Cannon said Thursday, hours after the two men were sentenced. "We will be following this case as every other case. Canada has a great reputation internationally because we stand up for human rights, and speak out on … things that need to be denounced."

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Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 33, and Steven Monjeza, 26, were arrested Dec. 27, one day after they celebrated their symbolic wedding at a hotel where Mr. Chimbalanga works as a janitor.

The couple was given the maximum sentence for "unnatural acts and gross indecency." Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa said he imposed the harsh sentence because the "offences carry with them a sense of shock against the morals of the Malawi society."

Malawi, the current head of the African Union, is one of the countries said to be leading a democratic renaissance in Africa. Malawi was invited, along with Ethiopia, Vietnam, Spain and the Netherlands, to bring "valuable perspective" to the summit, according to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Deeply conservative and 80 per cent Christian, Malawi is also one of at least 37 countries where homosexuality is banned. The law dates back to colonial days but the case is believed to be a first in Malawi.

Some of Mr. Harper's harshest critics gave him credit last November, when he took aside Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to express his "deep concern" over the country's plan for a bill that could jail or even execute gays.

In Canada, Conservatives have been called homophobic for standing against same-sex marriage and, more recently, cutting off funding for a Gay Pride event in Toronto.

Mr. Cannon declined to answer follow-up questions and did not say if the matter will be raised at the meeting next month.

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With a report from The Associated Press

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