Malawi minister reportedly denies move to suspend anti-gay law

Malawi minister reportedly denies move to suspend anti-gay law

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.


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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


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Solutions to poverty, population growth, global warming [Google+ Hangout]

As experts from three continents convene this week at UC Berkeley to discuss rapid population growth, climate change and other intractable problems, The Times will hold a live online video discussion -- via Google+ Hangout -- Thursday on potential solutions.

The newspaper explored such issues around the world in its recent five-part series on population growth in the developing world. Among other topics, the "Beyond 7 Billion" series examined chronic hunger and mass migration in East Africa -- trends that Dr. Malcolm Potts believes will soon extend across the Sahel, an arid region of Africa just below the Sahara desert.

LIVE VIDEO DISCUSSION: Join us at 3:30 p.m. Thursday

"What you've been seeing from Somalia is going to happen in all those countries, all the way across from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean," said Potts, a UC Berkeley professor of public health. "You've just seen a fraction of what's going to happen in the next 10 or 20 years."

Potts, who co-organized the conference focused on the Sahel region, will join The Times at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time Thursday to discuss solutions to the problems facing this part of Africa and other impoverished nations with soaring populations. He will be joined by Dr. Ndola Prata of UC Berkeley, William Ryerson of the Population Media Center and Fatima Adamu from Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria.

We invite you to join the conversation by posting comments or questions below, on The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages, or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

-- Kenneth R. Weiss

Photo: Somalia refugees, driven from their land by sectarian violence and drought, gather outside the United Nations' camps in eastern Kenya. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Activists fight homophobia from Myanmar to Malawi

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Moscow

Twenty-two years ago on Thursday, the World Health Organization took homosexuality off its list of mental disorders. The date has come to be celebrated as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, an event dreamed up by a French academic that has since spread across the world.

That includes places less welcoming to gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities than France or Germany, where couples smooched publicly at a "kiss-in" in Berlin. In Myanmar, for example, gay right activists held their first-ever celebration in Yangon, the Irrawaddy reported, another sign of the changes underway in a country that has gradually embraced reform.

"In the past a crowd of people at this kind of event would be assumed to be against the government, taking part in something like a protest," Aung Myo Min of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma told Channel News Asia. Now people “dare to reveal their sexual orientation,” he said.

In Malawi, human rights groups appealed to the new government to decriminalize homosexuality, the Maravi Post reported. In Iran, activists reportedly released rainbow balloons and hoisted rainbow flags for the occasion, but covered their faces in photos submitted to the Joopea blogging site to mark the day, a sign of the stigma that is still felt even among those willing to speak out.

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Vice president sworn in as Malawi leader after president's death


REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — Malawi's vice president was sworn in as its new leader Saturday, ending a brief but dangerous tussle for power after the country’s increasingly authoritarian president died of a massive heart attack.

The new president, Joyce Banda, a longtime proponent of women's rights in one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, had fallen out with her predecessor, Bingu we Mutharika. She vowed Saturday to uphold Malawi’s democratic constitution.

Under the country’s constitution, the vice president takes over after the death of a president. But officials delayed announcing Mutharika’s death for two days, as his inner circle struggled to cling to power, even naming Mutharika's younger brother, Peter wa Mutharika, as acting president.

In one outward sign on the power struggle, Information Minister Patricia Kaliati, called a news conference Friday flanked by several other ministers to say that Banda couldn't be president because she had left the ruling party and founded her own opposition party.

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Malawi's president reportedly dead, but officials stay silent

The fate of Malawi's ailing president, Bingu wa Mutharika, was unclear in what appeared to be a sign of a struggle over who would succeed him
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The fate of Malawi's ailing president, Bingu wa Mutharika, was unclear Friday in what appeared to be a sign of a struggle over who would succeed him.

Local media said Friday that Mutharika had died of a massive heart attack the day before, but there was no official confirmation. The Malawian newspaper Nyasa Times, along with the BBC and Reuters, cited medical and government sources as confirming that the former economist and World Bank official was dead.

The Nyasa Times reported that Vice President Joyce Banda would address the nation and be sworn in as president. Under the country's constitution, Banda would serve out the remaining two years of the president's term and appoint a new vice president.

The government confirmed Mutharika had been hospitalized. However, there was no official confirmation of the 78-year-old president's death.

As the official silence persisted, speculation mounted that Mutharika's inner circle might try to keep Banda from taking office by convening parliament and forcing through a change in the constitution.

Banda was thrown out of Mutharika's ruling Democratic Progressive Party when she opposed his efforts to have his younger brother, Foreign Minister Peter wa Mutharika, named as the ruling party's candidate for 2014 elections. She formed her own political party.

Any effort to resist the constitutional requirement that the vice president take power could spark a constitutional crisis and intense pressure from Western donors.

The tiny southern African nation of about 13 million people is highly dependent on foreign aid and is already suffering from cuts in donations, a decline in foreign currency earnings and disastrous fuel shortages.

President Mutharika had grown increasing unpopular in recent years, as the economy declined. Police killed at least 19 people in anti-government protests last year, a move which cost it $350 million in U.S. aid.

The president, under increasing pressure from critics to resign before the end of his term in 2014, said recently that Western donors could "go to hell."

Last month, the government banned journalists from insulting the president, with Mutharika angered by nicknames like "Mr Know-it-all" and "The Big Kahuna" circulating in the media and on the Internet.

Malawi's crisis deepened after a diplomatic spat last year when Mutharika expelled the British ambassador, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet, following a leaked diplomatic cable quoting the envoy as criticizing the president's increasingly autocratic manner. In response, Britain canceled its support for Malawi's budget, throwing Malawi's hospitals into crisis.

Banda, the vice president, is regarded as a strong advocate of empowering women. She has said that dynastic chieftains were the country's biggest problem. 

Reuters reported that there was little mourning in the capital, Lilongwe, over Mutharika.

"I am yet to see anyone shedding a tear for Bingu," said Martin Mlenga, a businessman, according to Reuters. "We all wished him dead, sorry to say that."


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Photo: Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika waves to supporters in Lilongwe during an electoral campaign in May 2009. Credit: Amos Gumulira/ AFP/Getty Images   

Malawi's President Mutharika ailing after heart attack

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The president of Malawi was in a critical condition Thursday after suffering a heart attack and was being flown to South Africa for treatment, according to news agency reports.

Bingu wa Mutharika, 78, was initially rushed to  a hospital in Lilongwe, the capital of the small impoverished southern African nation, after collapsing Thursday morning at his official residence.

Reuters news service cited an unnamed Cabinet minister saying Mutharika's condition was "very critical" and hadn't stabilized after cardiac arrest.

Deputy President Joyce Banda is second in line under the Malawian Constitution and would serve the remaining two years of his term if he could not do so.

However, Banda fell out with the president in 2010 and was thrown out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, raising speculation that the ruling elite would resist her if Mutharika couldn't carry on, setting the scene for a constitutional crisis.

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