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BLANTYRE, Malawi – The young gay couple who were given the harshest sentence for showing their love have been pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika, various news sources are reporting today.
Steven Monjeza and Titonge Chimbalanga were arrested on Dec. 27, the day after they celebrated their “engagement” at a resort where curious onlookers gathered. They have been imprisoned since then.
The unusual case attracted enormous international attention and condemnation for abusing basic human rights.
This week, Ban Ki-Moon, head of the United Nations, visited Malawi to press for the release of the couple.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has condemned the prosecution of the case, and the State Department has called it "a step backwards in the protection of human rights in Malawi."
Pop star Madonna, who has adopted two babies from impoverished Malawi, was among many notables who spoke out against the 14-year sentence to hard labor for Monjeza, 26, and Chimbalanga, 21, who were found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency this month.
Mutharika said he ordered the immediate release of the two men, who were imprisoned in different prisons. At this hour, it is unknown if the men have been freed and reunited, or where they will be living. Many human-rights activists fear for the safety of the men should they stay in Malawi, a deeply conservative country in the southern portion of Africa.
Ban praised Mutharika and urged the Malawi president to reconsider the harsh laws that criminalize homosexuality.
Homosexuality is illegal in at least 36 African countries. Uganda, for example, is considering the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill. Some nations governed by Shia law harshly punish homosexuals. Even in South Africa, where marriage equality is legal and gay rights have been afforded, hoodlums have inflicted “corrective” rapes on lesbians.
U.S. gay rights groups applauded the impending freedom for the couple.
"It is reprehensible to imprison anyone for who they are or who they love. We salute the leaders who have spoken up for Steven and Tiwonge, particularly members of Congress and State Department officials. This is welcomed news that we hope will reverberate around the world in places -- including our own country -- where LGBT people are targeted for harassment and discrimination," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington.
Harry Knox, director of the HRC Religion & Faith Program, expressed his thanks.
"We are grateful for the voices of faith leaders from diverse traditions around the globe who spoke out for compassion and fairness for Tiwonge and Steven. HRC's Religion and Faith Program salutes the coalition of religious and secular organizations in the US that called for the couple's release, and also honors the courage of African faith leaders who have called for true justice in Malawi."