The gay Malawian couple who were arrested in December for holding a marriage ceremony have thanked their supporters from jail.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga have been in custody in a Blantyre prison for four months, having been denied bail.

They have both pleaded not guilty to charges of sodomy and indecency.

In messages relayed to gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, the couple said they loved each other and thanked supporters for sending money.

Mr Monjeza was reported to be ill earlier this month with vomiting, sickness and jaundice due to the poor conditions in Chichiri jail. Supporters say his condition has improved slightly.

In the message, he said: “We have come a long way and even if our family relatives are not happy, I will not and never stop loving Tiwonge.”

Mr Chimbalanga said: “I love Steven so much. If people or the world cannot give me the chance and freedom to continue living with him as my lover, then I am better off to die here in prison. Freedom without him is useless and meaningless.”

Both men thanked those who had visited them and sent money for extra food to top up their prison rations.

Mr Monjeza said: “All the support is well appreciated. We are grateful to everybody who is doing this for us. May people please continue the commendable job.”

Mr Tatchell, whose group OutRage! has been arranging support for the men, said: “Steven and Tiwonge are showing immense fortitude and courage. They declared their love in a society where many people – not all – are very intolerant and homophobic. This was a very brave thing to do.

“Although suffering in prison, they are unbowed. They continue to maintain their love and affirm their human right to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga have not been convicted of any crime.

Unusually, they have been denied bail. Authorities have said this is for their own safety.

They were expected to be jailed last month but a judge delayed sentencing to allow them to defend the case.

Malawi has laws against homosexuality and the men could be jailed for up to 14 years.

Their supporters and lawyers argue their arrest and detention is unconstitutional.