BREAKING: Malawi President Pardons Imprisoned Gay Couple

Fantastic news. President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi has pardoned the gay couple sentenced last week to 14 years in prison at hard labor for the “grossly indecent and unnatural act” of holding a commitment ceremony.

Mr Mutharika, speaking as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visited Lilongwe, said he had ordered their immediate release. Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were given 14-year jail terms after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts. The case has sparked international condemnation and a debate about homosexuality in the country. Mr Ban said he welcomed the president’s decision. Correspondents say Malawi is a deeply conservative society where religious leaders equate same-sex liaisons with Satanism. Mr Mutharika, who has in the past dismissed homosexuality as alien, said he had set them free on humanitarian grounds. “These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws,” he said after meeting Mr Ban. “However, as the head of state I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions.”

We can consider this welcome news as evidence that even the most virulently anti-gay government can indeed by swayed by international pressure. I imagine that today’s planned protest at the Malawi consulate in NYC will not take place.

UPDATE: The protest in NYC is still going to happen. From the organizer:

WE DID IT! BUT THE WORK IS STILL NOT DONE! TODAY WE STILL PROTEST, FOR ALL THE STEVENS AND TIWONJES IN AFRICA, WHO DO NOT HAVE A VOICE. AND FOR A REMOVAL OF ALL THE ANTI GAY LAWS, NOT ONLY IN MALAWI, NOT ONLY IN AFRICA, BUT IN THE WORLD! THE PROTEST IN NYC, IS STILL ON! I’M SO PROUD OF YOU! I HAVEN’T CRIED SUCH HAPPY TEARS IN A LONG TIME!

UPDATE II: The White House has issued a statement.

The White House is pleased to learn of President Bingu wa Mutharika’s pardon of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza. These individuals were not criminals and their struggle is not unique. We must all recommit ourselves to ending the persecution and criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity. We hope that President Mutharika’s pardon marks the beginning of a new dialogue which reflects the country’s history of tolerance and a new day for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Malawi and around the globe.