Monday, 31 May 2010

Times: Malawi gay couple freed after pardon
Sunday, 30th May 2010 - 12:10CET; PA

A gay couple pardoned by Malawi's president has been released from jail, a prisons spokesman said today.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were released late last night, hours after President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned them without condition.

The spokesman stressed that homosexuality remained illegal in the conservative southern African country.

It was not clear where the men went after their release. They were not at their Blantyre home today.

Malawi had faced international condemnation for the conviction and 14-year sentences given to the two men, who were arrested in December, a day after celebrating their engagement.

Malawi is among 37 African countries with anti-gay laws.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]


Times: Malawi pardons gay couple
Sunday, 30th May 2010; AFP

Malawi's president yesterday pardoned and ordered the release of gay couple

Malawi's President Bingu wa Mutharika yesterday announced the pardon of a gay married couple jailed for 14 years after holding a same-sex wedding, following talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

"I have decided that with effect from today, they are pardoned and they will be released," Mutharika told reporters as he sat beside the UN secretary general.
"From a humanitarian point of view, they are released and pardoned forthwith."

Ban commended the lifting of the sentence, which had been met with outrage and alarm by the US, Europe and rights groups, and called on Malawi's parliament to change the country's laws.

A Blantyre court recently sentenced Steven Monjeza, 26, and his 20-year-old partner Tiwonge Chimbalanga to 14 years hard labour for sodomy, after they were arrested on December 28 following a symbolic wedding.

"I do appreciate and commend the very courageous decision to pardon these two gay boys," Ban said, adding, "This outdated penal code should be reformed wherever it may exist."

"Any harassment or violation or discrimination against people based on sexual orientation is discriminatory. It's against international human rights law," Ban said.

In an address to parliament, he called on lawmakers to change the legislation regarding gay sex, which is illegal in Malawi and a majority of African countries.
"I am confident that Malawi will take appropriate steps to update its laws in a way that lives up to international standards," he told a press conference afterwards.
Ban said Mutharika had told him that he been considering a pardon.

"President Mutharika told me it is not because of foreign pressure but he is exercising his presidential power," he said.

The May 20 ruling was condemned by Western countries with the US saying it was "appalled", and former colonial power Britain saying it was "deeply dismayed".
Leading Aids campaigners also voiced concern that the jailing could hurt the fight against the disease, widespread in southern Africa, by forcing gay men underground. But the couple's case shocked Malawi's conservative society, where sex topics are still largely taboo.

Handing down sentence on May 20, magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa Usiwa told the two men that the maximum punishment with hard labour was to serve as an example to Malawians.
"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," the judge added.
"Malawi is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons."

In January, the couple had appealed to the Constitutional Court to toss out the case, but the top court refused to hear the appeal.

"They injured our traditions and culture," Mutharika said yesterday before announcing the pardon.

"They challenged our laws in this country. These two gay boys were wrong," he said. Thirty-eight out of 53 African countries criminalise consensual gay sex, which is punishable by death in some nations, according to Human Rights Watch.

Nearby South Africa is the only country in the continent to recognise same-sex marriages.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.

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