JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Malawi's minister of justice has reportedly denied saying that the country's law banning homosexual acts would be suspended pending a parliamentary vote on whether to decriminalize such acts.
The minister, Atty. Gen. Ralph Kasambara, said this week that despite reports to the contrary, he had not issued any statements about the suspension of the anti-homosexual law. Such a move would run against a strong current of homophobia in much of Africa, driven by traditionalists, churches and religious conservatives."There was no such announcement and there was no discussion about same-sex marriages," Kasambara said, according to Malawi's Daily Times newspaper. "Nobody talked about suspension of any provision of the penal code."
Kasambara had been widely praised for allegedly saying at a recent conference that Malawi would suspend the law to allow for public debate and a vote in parliament. The conference, sponsored by two Malawian rights groups, the Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) in Lilongwe was held to discuss ways to get a national consensus on decriminalizing homosexuality.
Human Rights Watch had called Malawi's decision courageous. Amnesty International hailed it as an "historic step in the fight against discrimination."Kasambara had been quoted as saying there was a moratorium on the laws, meaning police would not prosecute people until parliament made a decision on whether to decriminalize homosexuality. He allegedly said it would be embarrassing to the government if people were charged with homosexuality, then it was decriminalized.
Kasambara's reported statement that people wouldn't be prosecuted was condemned by the Malawi Law Society and by Malawian churches.
In 2010, two gay Malawian men were jailed for 14 years after announcing their engagement. After intense international pressure, they were pardoned and released. Western donors have since pressed Malawi to repeal its law banning homosexuality.
Photo: Tiwonge Chimbalanga, foreground, and Steven Monjeza, left background, are led from court in Blantyre, Malawi, after a judge sentenced the couple in May 2010 to the maximum 14 years in prison for unnatural acts and gross indecency under Malawi's anti-gay legislation. The couple were pardoned later that month. Credit: Alex Ntonya / Associated Press