Amnesty International has lauded Malawi for suspending laws against same-sex relationships describing the move as a step in the right direction.
“Amnesty International welcomes Minister (Ralph) Kasambara’s statement and hopes it serves as the first step toward ending discrimination and persecution based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Malawi,” said Noel Kututwa, the rights group’s director for southern Africa.
Homosexuality is banned in Malawi – as it is in 36 other African states – and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years, but Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara said he wanted debate on the issue before parliament decided whether to keep the laws or not.
Attorney General Kasambara disclosed that police have been ordered not to arrest gays pending a decision on whether to repeal the legislation, a source of friction with the impoverished southern African nation’s donors
“If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government,” he told Reuters on Monday.
Sections 153 and 156 of Malawi’s Penal Code criminalize same sex sexual conduct between men and those convicted face up to 14 years imprisonment, with or without corporal punishment.
Section 137A of Malawi’s Penal Code criminalizes “indecent practices between females,” with anyone found guilty liable to a prison term of five years.
“We urge the government not to lose momentum on this basic human rights issue and to ensure the full repeal of these discriminatory and hate-filled laws,” said Noel Kututwa.
In 2009, two men were arrested and charged with public indecency after becoming the first gay couple to marry in the socially conservative former British colony.
This drew international condemnation and was one of the reasons Western donors withdrew budget support to the government of Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in April.
A recent report presented to Mutharika’s successor, Joyce Banda, recommended decriminalisation of same-sex marriages as a way of helping the fight against the spread of HIV and Aids.