The gay couple pardoned for homosexuality offences by Malawi’s president last week have thanked him for releasing them.

Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga said in a statement: “The president has demonstrated that he is a caring father, a considerate and tolerant president.

“We wish him good health in his everyday endeavours as he continues leading the country to respecting human rights and to economic prosperity.”

The couple were sentenced to 14 years in jail with hard labour for breaking Malawi’s harsh laws on gay sex.

After international outcry, president Bingu Wa Mutharika ordered that they be released last weekend.

After a meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he said: “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.”

But Mr Mutharki has warned that his pardon does not change Malawi’s laws and they may be arrested if they reoffend again.

AFP reports that he has also asked the public, which was in favour of the harsh sentence, to stop discussing the case.

He said: “I don’t want to hear anyone commenting on them. Nobody is authorised to comment on the gays. You will spoil things.”

In the statement, Mr Monjeza and Mr Chimbalanga added that five months since their arrest had been “the most stressful period in our lives.”

“So much has been said and written about us, both positive and negative. We think this is the time for us to be given an opportunity to enjoy our freedom,” they said.

The couple are keeping a low profile. Mr Chimbalanga told AFP he had gone to rest in Lilongwe while Mr Monjeza returned home.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who has been supporting them, said this week that they could seek asylum abroad.

“We are now liaising with Steven and Tiwonge about whether they want to seek asylum abroad and will assist them, whatever they decide,” he said.