Several updates on Steven Monjeza (left) and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the Malawian couple pardoned on Saturday after being sentenced to 14 years in prison and convicted of "unnatural acts" and gross indecency for holding an engagement ceremony. The couple were released to their home villages but are looking for a safe house and asylum, according reports.
"[Monjez andn Chimbalanga] were at their separate home villages after being released from prison, a local underground gay movement said Sunday. Gift Trapence, director of the Centre for the development of the People (CEDEP) which paid the couple's legal fees, told AFP. 'The prison authorities told them they had been given instruction from above that they should take them to their respective homes.' Trapence said authorities had deliberately sent the couple -- who were jailed at different prisons -- to their villages near Blantyre to 'avoid hostility towards them by the public.' 'They were warmly welcomed by their respective relatives', he said, saying that he not yet talked to the couple. The public taunted and booed the couple every time they appeared in court in Blantyre following their December 28 arrest after a traditional wedding ceremony, the first same-sex union in Malawi.
Malawi's press is generally praising the pardon granted by President Bingu Wa Mutharika. The Nyasa Times, the nation's most prominent newspaper, wrote an editorial applauding the action and noted that "pressure or not under pressure, the President has done the right thing to pardon the gay couple."
" 'It doesn't mean that now they are free people, they can keep doing whatever you keep doing,' she said. Ms Kaliati said they could be rearrested if they 'continue doing that'. The men's lawyer said they were unlikely to be treated in the same way if they were arrested again. 'The pardon only applies to the offence under which they were convicted. If, for example, they go back and the state is of the view that they have recommited the offence, the pardon will not apply,' said Mauya Msuku."
After a Saturday meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Malawi's leader ordered the couple's release. Human rights groups as well as the United States, Great Britain and the United Nations, Malawi's largest international donors, pressured the conservative southern African nation to release the couple.
Homosexuality is illegal in at least 37 countries in Africa, including Malawi. HIV/AIDS activists say the harsh penalties encourage anti-gay sentiment in the region and dissuade gay men who are HIV positive against seeking treatment.