Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika has
spared two gay men from serving a harsh 14-year sentence, CNN
Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 33, and Steven
Monjeza, 26, were charged with and found guilty of unnatural acts and
gross indecency for participating in a symbolic engagement ceremony
in December. In sentencing the pair, Magistrate Nyakwawa Usiwa-Usiwa
imposed the maximum sentence allowed by law, saying he wanted to give
the men a “scaring sentence” to “protect” the public.
“I will give you a scaring sentence
so that the public be protected from people like you, so that we are
not tempted to emulate this horrendous example,” he said.
State Department spokesman Philip
Crowley called the harsh sentence “appalling.” British officials
also protested the ruling.
Mutharika announced the pardon after
meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
White House Press Secretary Robert
Gibbs said the White House was “pleased” to learn of the pardon.
Gibbs said the two men were not
criminals and called for an end to the 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,” he
Mutharika has previously condemned
being gay. “This is evil and bad before the eyes of God,” he
said last month during the installation of a Roman Catholic Bishop in
Blantyre. “There are certain things we Malawians just do not do.”
At least thirty-seven African countries
currently outlaw being gay.
gay activists in Zimbabwe have been charged with insulting President
Robert Mugabe after police stormed the offices of the Gays and
Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) rights group.
The Malawi couple had been held in
separate cells since their December 28 arrest.