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Malawi frees jailed gay couple

A gay couple sentenced to serve 14 years in jail in Malawi have been pardoned after their country’s president met Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general.

Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, were tried and found guilty of sodomy and indecency earlier this month in a move that sparked international condemnation.

But after talking with Ban today, Malawi’s president, Bingu wa Mutharika, announced the pair would be freed.

“These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws,” he said after the meeting, at the southern African country’s State House. “However, as the head of state, I hereby pardon them and therefore ask for their immediate release with no conditions.

“I have done this on humanitarian grounds, but this does not mean that I support this.”

He added: “We don’t condone marriages of this nature. It’s unheard of in Malawi and it’s illegal.”

Ban praised the decision, but said: “It is unfortunate that laws criminalise people based on sexuality. Laws that criminalise sexuality should be repealed.”

He is due to address Malawi’s national assembly later and is expected to ask legislators to look at this.

High-profile figures who spoke out in support of them include the singer Elton John and the pop star Madonna, who adopted a child from Malawi. Amnesty International also called the sentences an “outrage”.