Malawi President Pardons Gay Lovers

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[Global: Africa]

Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika finally pardoned the couple, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who were recently sentenced to 14 years hard labor on charges of homosexuality.

The decision was reached after an extensive meeting between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Bingu on Saturday, May 29. “I have pardoned the two on humanitarian ground. But what they did is criminal and against our culture,” said President Bingu, amidst widespread condemnation from the gay community around the world.

Monjeza and Tiwonge were last week sentenced by Judge Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa to a 14 years jail term.

Last week pop singer Madonna, who is well known for her adoption of Malawi infants,  issued a statement calling for the pair's release.  “As a matter of principle, I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race color, religion or sexual orientation,” she said. “I call upon the progressive men and women and around the world to challenge this decision in the name of human dignity and equal rights for all.”

Peter Tatchell, the British human rights campaigner who has been advocating for the Malawians' release since their arrest last December, said: “Our thanks to President Bingu and Ban Ki Moon for ending this terrible injustice.”

Tatchell championed Steven and Tiwonge's case and support them personally, arranging prison visits, food parcels and medicine. “Steven and Tiwonge should never have been arrested, let alone jailed for five months, convicted and sentenced to 14 years hard labour,” said Tatchell, adding that: “They love one another and have harmed no one.”

He added: "I hope the government of Malawi will now show true humanitarian leadership by repealing the criminalisation of homosexuality and enacting laws to protect gay people against discrimination and hate crimes, as South Africa has done.”

"As someone who supported the people of Malawi in the 1970s and 80s, when they struggled against the dictatorship of Dr Hastings Banda, I urge the Malawian government to continue the transition to democracy and human rights by ensuring equality for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens," he said.

Campaigners continued to threaten to lobby the donor community countries to suspend aid to Malawi. Tatchell has also spearheaded a campaign focusing on Uganda where a Member of Parliament, David Bahati, who belongs to President Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Movement (NRM) government introduced a Bill which calls for the death pernalty for homosexuals. US President Barack Obama earlier this year called the proposal "odious," and the Uganda authorities seem to be backing off.

Miwambo writes for The Black Star News from London

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