BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — Reuters Africa says Malawi has suspended laws that criminalize same-sex relationships and has ordered police not to arrest gays, with the government urging a public debate before parliament decides whether to repeal the legislation.
The report quotes justice minister and attorney general Ralph Kasambara as saying, "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. It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail."
According to Malawi Today, the office of the president and cabinet commissioned a report to assess the country’s laws and policies that recommends the decriminalization of same-sex marriages as a means of combating the spread of HIV.
When she became Malawi's new president, Joyce Banda initially signalled her intent to reverse the country's so-called indecency laws. "Some laws which were duly passed by the august house . . . will be repealed as a matter of urgency . . . these include the provisions regarding indecent practices and unnatural acts," Banda said in May. She reportedly received support for the move from a majority of parliamentarians but likely faced opposition from church leaders and the wider society.
In October, Banda backed away from her pledge, saying that her country was not ready for such a change. "Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realizes that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now,” she said. “I as a leader have no right to influence how people feel."
Homosexuality is banned in Malawi and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. In 2010, two Malawians, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, were sentenced to 14-year jail terms for "gross indecency and unnatural acts" after getting engaged. In the wake of international condemnation, the late president, Bingu wa Mutharika, who said the couple had "committed a crime against our culture, against our religion and against our laws," pardoned them on "humanitarian grounds."
Landing image: Malawi Democrat