Malawi Gay Couple Splits Under 'Pressure'

A homosexual couple in Malawi has split due to what one human rights advocate called "anti-gay pressure."

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga separated this week just days after Malawi's president pardoned them from a 14-year punishment for "unnatural acts and gross indecency."

Monjeza, who recently moved in with a woman named Dorothy Gulo, said that he was coerced into the gay relationship, but human rights activist Peter Tatchell thinks otherwise.

Tatchell, who campaigned for the couple's release, told BBC that Monjeza has succumbed to anti-gay pressure.

"It is a tragedy that homophobic threats and abuse have forced this couple apart," he said. "They were deeply in love. The pressure has got to Steven."

Monjeza and Chimabalanga, who identifies as a woman, were jailed last December after holding an engagement ceremony in the city of Blantyre.

While being detained, the couple was subjected to psychiatric evaluations and medical examinations to find evidence of sodomy, according to Human Rights Watch. They were also reportedly beaten and subject to booing and jeering during their trial.

In May, Chief Resident Magistrate Nyakwawa Uisiwausiwa gave them the maximum sentence 14 years of hard labor because he wanted to "stop Malawian sons and daughters from copying the same-sex marriages which are un-Malawian and not in our culture and religious beliefs."

The ruling was widely condemned by the international community who called the decision an "outrage" and a breach of international laws.

Two weeks later, the couple was pardoned by Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika shortly after he met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who praised the Malawi leader's courage.

Despite the pardon, Amnesty International expressed concerned that Monjeza and Chimbalanga would be "subject to future arrest and harassment under the same laws if they continue their relationship," and called for the country's laws to be changed.

"Malawi must live up to its obligations under international human rights law," said Michelle Kagari, deputy director of Amnesty International's Africa program. "The authorities are legally bound by these treaties to respect and protect freedom of conscience, expression and the right to privacy, without discrimination on the grounds of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity."

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