Malawi govt legalises gays indirectly, orders police to stop arrests

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Malawi has suspended legislation against homosexuality which was among the hot button issues that forced donors to withdraw support last year, Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara has disclosed.

Kasambara, who is also Attorney General, said government wants to encourage debate and decide on whether laws against same- sex relationships should continue to be criminalized

“There is a moratorium on all such laws, meaning that police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws. These laws will not be enforced until the time that Parliament makes a decision,” he said.

In legal parlance, a moratorium is used when the Executive arm of government, which is mandated to enforce laws, decides to temporarily suspend enforcement of a legislation, especially when it raises controversies that require its review.

Homosexuality is banned in Malawi and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. In 2009 two men were arrested and charged with public indecency after becoming the first gay couple to marry in the conservative southern African state.

”The idea to issue a moratorium is that 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.”

A recent report on the assessment of the country’s laws and policies commissioned by the office of the president and cabinet recommended decriminalisation of same-sex marriages as a way of ensuring effective fight against the spread of HIV.

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