A gay couple in Malawi sentenced to 14 years hard labor for holding the country’s first same-sex engagement were pardoned Saturday after a meeting between the president and the UN Secretary General.
President Bingu wa Mutharika announced his pardon of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga after meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, according to the country’s solicitor general, Anthony Kamanga.
Monjeza, 26, and Chimbalanga, 20, were jailed last week, prompting an international outcry.
Mutharika said he would release the men on “humanitarian grounds only.”
“These boys committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws,” Mutharika said. “However, as head of state, I hereby pardon them and therefore order their immediate release without any conditions.”
But he added, “We don’t condone marriages of this nature. It’s unheard of in Malawi and it’s illegal.”
Earlier this month, a judge convicted and sentenced the two men on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency, both colonial-era laws. They were arrested in December, a day after they celebrated their engagement.
Homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 countries in Africa, including Malawi.