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Praise for Pardon of Malawian Gay Couple

Authorities in Malawi say two gay men convicted of homosexuality have been released from prison after being pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were released one day after President Bingu wa Mutharika announced he was pardoning them, though he believed what they did was wrong.

"However, now that they have been sentenced, I as the president of this country, have the powers to pronounce on them," he said. "And therefore I have decided that with effect from today they are pardoned and they will be released."

He said he was freeing the men on humanitarian grounds.

The men were arrested last December after holding a traditional marriage ceremony. Two weeks ago a Malawian judge convicted them of unnatural acts and sentenced them to 14 years in prison.

The Malawian president announced the pardon during a visit by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Mr. Ban called the pardon courageous, but urged Malawi to reform, what he called, these outdated laws.

"Any harassment or violations or discriminations of people based on sexual orientation or gender [identity] is discriminatory," he said.

The detention and trial of the two men sparked a global debate.

Homosexuality is considered taboo in most African societies. It is illegal in Malawi and two-thirds of Africa's 53 states.

Human-rights groups defended the men, saying they were charged under an outdated law and their conviction violated their individual rights.

But religious groups in the country urged the government to convict them, saying their relationship was un-Godly.

The release of the two men has been praised by human-rights activists and the British and U.S. governments.