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Malawi's anti-gay laws

Isaac Mugabi(AFP,Reuters)November 9, 2012

Malawi's justice minister Ralph Kasambara has apparently denied that he said the country's anti-gay law would be suspended pending a parliamentary vote on whether same-sex relationships should be decriminalized.

Image: Reuters

Justice Minister, Ralph Kasambara, insisted that he had not issued any statements about the suspension of the anti-gay law despite reports to the contrary.

"There was no such announcement and there was no discussion about same-sex marriages," Kasambara said,"Nobody talked about suspension of any provision of the penal code."

However this latest development is in contrast with an earlier announcement made by the justice minister that the ban on same-sex relationships had been temporarily lifted. 

DW's correspondent in Blantyre George Mhango says controversy surrounds the minister's change of mind, which has also raised concerns among opposition groups and the local population.

There is mounting pressure on the justice minister to resign or apologize for back-tracking on the suspension of  Malawi's anti-gay laws. 

Rights groups disappointed

The group Human Rights Watch had earlier called Malawi's decision to dump anti-gay laws courageous while Amnesty International also praised Malawi for the "historic step in the fight against discrimination in the country."

The two rights groups have yet to comment on this most recent decision.

Two gay men appear in court in Malawi.(AP Photo/Alex Ntonya)
Rights groups earlier praised Malawi for suspending anti-gay legislationImage: AP

President Joyce Banda announced in May that she wanted to repeal Malawi's laws against same-sex relationships, going against a trend on a continent in which gays are being increasingly singled out for prosecution.

Traditionalists and religious leaders condemned her announcement, saying she was trying to please Western donor nations.

They argued that homosexuality was alien to Malawi's cultural and religious values.

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 anti-gay law.

At least 76 countries, 38 of them in Africa, have criminalized consensual same-sex conduct, according to Human Rights Watch.