Laws on the books in Malawi that ban homosexual relationships have been suspended pending further debate in parliament. Human rights groups welcomed the decision and called on the country to go a step further.
Malawi's justice minister, Ralph Kasambara, said on Monday that the country's laws banning homosexuality would not be enforced until further debate on the matter can be carried out in parliament.
"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 the Reuters news agency in an interview. "It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail."
During a recent radio debate Kasambara added that police would not arrest or prosecute anyone based on the homosexuality laws until parliament makes a decision.
Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi - and several other African countries - and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years. Two men were convicted in 2010 of public indecency after they married. They were given the maximum sentence, but were released after an international outcry. Protests took place in Malawi as well (see photo above).
On Monday, Amnesty International's southern Africa director, Noel Kututwa, said he hoped the decision "serves as the first step towards ending discrimination and persecution based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Malawi."
The director of Malawi's Center for the Development of People said the decision to suspend the laws is a good one, but must be taken further.
"Suspending the laws does not mean repealing," said Gift Trapence in an interview with AFP. "The only way out is to repeal the laws and Malawians should remove their biases and prejudices when debating these issues."
Malawi's President Joyce Banda has said in the past that she hopes to see the homosexuality laws repealed.
mz/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)