Although President Bingu wa Mutharika said he would have Tiwonge Chimbalanga (pictured below right) and Steven Monjeza (pictured below left) released from prison, he made it clear that he was releasing the couple solely on humanitarian grounds. The Malawi leader was adamant that homosexuality is still illegal in his southeast African country.
The anti-gay laws that exist in Malawi date to colonial times. The country’s law makers still enforce penal codes that criminalize sexual behavior, even though many feel these laws should be repealed. In a country where religious heads equate satanism with homosexuality, reforming laws of this nature might be an impossible task.
President Mutharika, who in the past has been quoted as saying that homosexuality is “evil, bad before the eyes of God and an act that Malawans just do not do,” said the following to the Associated Press:
“These boys committed a crime against our culture, against our religion and against our laws. However, as head of state, I hereby pardon them and therefore order their immediate release without any conditions.” He added, “We don’t condone marriages of this nature. It’s unheard of in Malawi, and it’s illegal.”
Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were initially jailed for “gross indecency and unnatural acts” after celebrating their engagement. The decision to have them imprisoned drew the ire and condemnation of many around the world. The men were arrested in December of last and had remained incarcerated since. Authorities convicted the men of engaging in gay sex under a law dating back to colonial rule by Britain and sentenced to 14 years with hard labor. Should they continue their relationship they face possible re-arrest and the pardon will not be applicable. Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of Africa’s 53 states.
Britain has offered to grant asylum to the pardoned Malawi gay couple – Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20. According to Peter Thatchel, British Human Rights Campaigner from Outrage, the organization is in touch with the couple about their safety and wellbeing.