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Freedom in Malawi, With Questions for the Future

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Read Mia Kirshner's original post following the trial of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga.

The president of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, has issued an unconditional pardon for for Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 33,

Both men had been sentenced to fourteen years in prison, the maximum penalty for their "marriage" ceremony.

The pardon is a step in the right direction toward equal rights for all men and women in Malawi, as dictated by their Constitution.

The President issued the following statement:

"These boys committed a crime against our culture, our religion and our laws; 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."

While the act of a pardon is invigorating, the president's statement confuses and leaves many unanswered questions.

  • Where will Steven and Tiwonge go now?
  • Will they be protected from a possible backlash by the police force of Malawi? Is the police force going to cooperate?
  • Will the courts amend the anti-gay laws in Malawi in order to mirror what the Malawian Constitution dictates?
  • Will there be a backlash against other gay men and women in Malawi?
  • Will gay rights activists in Malawi be allowed to speak out without fear of being arrested, as they have been in the past?
  • What will happen now to other men and women in Malawi who have been jailed for similar "crimes?"

These answers are crucial in order to understand the next steps in this human rights puzzle.

What I do know is that your voice is a very important reason why this pardon was given.

I am humbled by of all of you who spoke up, signed their name in order to free these men and ask that the Constitution be followed

I Live Here's petition as of today, May 30, has nearly 15,000 signatures. This illustrates the power of grass roots activism.

For now, we will continue to gather more information and update you as soon as we know more.

Thank you all deeply.

I hope that all of you who signed the petition and spoke out on this issue feel you were part of why President Mutharika pardoned Steven and Tiwongwe and will continue to believe that your voice will be heard.

To learn more about this history of this case, visit this wonderful blog.