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Malawi couple pardoned

A gay couple from Malawi is staying out of the public eye after being pardoned and freed from prison.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were convicted and sentenced in May on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency under colonial-era laws. Crowds of Malawians had heckled the two during court hearings, with some saying that 14 years of hard labor, the maximum possible sentence, was not long enough.

The two were released May 29, hours after President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned them without condition. But in giving his pardon, which he said was on “humanitarian grounds only,” Mutharika warned that homosexuality remains illegal in the conservative southern African country.

At the time of their release, activists said they were searching for a safe house for the couple, fearing they could be attacked.

The couple’s lawyer, Mauya Msuku, said on May 30 he had not seen either of the men since their release. Maxwell Manda also said he had not seen Chimbalanga, his brother-in-law.

“We heard that they were released but we don’t know where they are,” he said. “They are neither at their home in [a Blantyre suburb] or their villages. But I know they are keeping a low profile deliberately because of the sensitivity of their case.”

Malawi had faced international condemnation for the conviction and harsh sentence given to the two men, who were arrested in December, a day after celebrating their engagement.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, international-rights groups and the U.S. welcomed news of their release.

“I join President Obama in applauding President Bingu wa Mutharika for his wise and courageous decision to pardon Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. “He has provided an example for nations across Africa and the world as they debate laws that criminalize sexual orientation.”

No arrests at Moscow parades

Two gay Pride parades were held without arrests in Moscow on May 29, the first time Russian authorities have not intervened since the inaugural attempt to hold the event in the capital in 2006.

The activists’ spokesperson claimed that the absence of harassment, beatings and detentions was due to their “military planning” rather than any kind of warming toward nontraditional orientation among officials.

Moscow riot police typically disperse such gatherings with brute force, emboldened by declarations from city Mayor Yury Luzhkov equating homosexuals with the devil.

About 25 activists held a short demonstration on The Arbat, a pedestrian street lined with shops and cafes that is one of Moscow’s main tourist draws.

They marched for about 10 minutes, holding banners and shouting slogans such as “No discrimination on the grounds of orientation.” Some observers waved and laughed, and there were no signs of hostility.

Police did not try to disperse the march, but when the demonstrators saw a line of uniformed officers blocking the street ahead of them, they scattered.

A few hours later in northwestern Moscow, a smaller, international group including British activist Peter Tatchell unveiled a long rainbow flag and chanted, “Russia without homophobes!” and “Equal rights, no compromise!”

“Today it’s like the Soviet era in Russia: Those who seek to hold a peaceful protest are being hunted by the police and the FSB security, like we were some kind of criminals or terrorists,” said Tatchell, a member of the U.K.-rights group OutRage.

The last gay parade coincided with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow. That ended with dozens of arrests. Foreign politicians and pop stars as well as dozens of Russians were roughed up by police and attacked for participating in the protests.

New McDonald’s ad gay-inclusive

A new advertising campaign released in France by burger giant McDonald’s is gay-inclusive.

The campaign, titled “Come As You Are” [“Venez Comme Vous Etes”], includes a gay television ad.

The ad suggests that a teenager is about to come out to his father over a meal at McDonald’s. In the ad, the son sits in a booth while looking at his class photo when his cell phone rings.

“I was just thinking about you,” he says. “I was just looking at our class picture.”

“I miss you too,” he adds before hanging up.

The son is joined by his father, who comments on the class photo: “Too bad your class is all boys, you could get all the girls.”

The son smiles thoughtfully at his father; then, as the camera pulls away, the pair begin to converse.

A subtitled version of the ad posted on YouTube had been viewed more than 220,000 times as of June 2.

Zimbabwe frees gay group employees

A Zimbabwe court freed two employees of a gay organization after six days in jail on allegations of possessing indecent material and displaying a placard seen as insulting to President Robert Mugabe, an outspoken critic of homosexuality.

The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe organization claim that police assaulted the two employees.

Defense attorney David Hofisi said the two were also made to bend their knees into a sitting position with their arms outstretched for long periods and were struck with bottles when they weakened and fell.

Magistrate Munamate Mutevedzi on May 27 released the two on bail of $200 each until their June 10 trial, where they will face penalties of imprisonment or a fine.

Homosexuality is illegal in Zimbabwe and most African countries.

Police allege the two employees possessed photographs of gay sex and posted a letter in their office from former San Francisco Mayor Willie Lewis Brown criticizing the Zimbabwean president’s opposition to homosexuality.

The organization identified the employees as Ellen Chadehama, 34, and Ignatius Mhambi, 38, and said both were married with children.

They were arrested May 21 on allegations under censorship laws and sweeping security laws making it an offense “to undermine the authority of the president.”

Mugabe, 86, has described same-sex partners as “lower than dogs and pigs,” but arrests of gays are rare in Zimbabwe. He has vowed not to allow gay rights to be written into a new constitution being drafted by the coalition.

Gay U.K. Cabinet secretary resigns

David Laws, who was appointed as chief secretary of the Treasury in the United Kingdom in early May, has stepped down from the position after the Daily Telegraph revealed that he claimed more than $58,000 in taxpayer money to live in his partner’s house.

Parliamentary rules passed in 2006 prevent members of Parliament from “leasing accommodation from a partner.”

The Daily Telegraph reported the news about Laws’ expense reports and, in doing so, first reported that Laws is gay.

In its report, the Telegraph wrote that it “was not intending to disclose Mr. Laws’ sexuality, but in a statement issued in response to questions from this newspaper, the minister chose to disclose this fact.”

In his response to the paper, Laws wrote: “I have been involved in a relationship with James Lundie since around 2001 — about two years after first moving in with him. Our relationship has been unknown to both family and friends throughout that time. James and I are intensely private people. We made the decision to keep our relationship private and believed that was our right. Clearly that cannot now remain the case.”

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