Malawi President Balks, Pardons Gay Couple

The Malawi government blinked first in its showdown with the international community over the jailing of a gay couple earlier this month, with President Bingu wa Mutharika announcing that he will pardon and release the prisoners immediately.

Mutharika made the announcement during a press conference with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was one of those who condemned the decision of a local court to sentence Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza to 14 years in jail on charges based on anti-homosexuality laws that are now shunned by most of the modern world. Chimbalanga and Monjeza were arrested after they held a party to celebrate their engagement. Malawi is one of a few remaining countries that criminalize homosexuality.

Ban hailed Mutharika’s decision, but called on the government to stop prosecuting people for their sexual orientation. “Laws that criminalize sexuality should be repealed,” Ban said.

Mutharika said that he is ordering the couple’s “immediate release without any conditions,” but warned that it does not mean that he is trying to set a precedent. “We don’t condone marriages of this nature. It’s unheard of in Malawi and it’s illegal.”