By Malissa Rogers
The hope for decriminalizing homosexuality in Malawi has halted, after the minister of justice reportedly denied any involvement with suspending anti-gay laws.
In Malawi, any person who commits a homosexual act can be prosecuted and serve up to 14 years in jail with hard labor.
“There was no such announcement and there was no discussion about same-sex marriages,” Kasambara, the Malawi Minister, said, according to Malawi’s Daily Times newspaper. “Nobody talked about suspension of any provision of the penal code.”
Kasambara said he had not issued any statements declaring that he would suspend the homosexual laws. He had been hailed for allegedly stating at a conference that he would halt arrests and prosecutions of gays, pending a parliamentary vote and a public debate.
According to many reports, Kasambara had been quoted saying “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.”
Human Rights Watch had called the decision a “courageous” one. They encouraged other countries that criminalize homosexuals to change their laws as well and that prosecution for consensual same-sex conduct is a violation of the international human rights standards.
“Malawi has taken a bold step forward, putting respect for its own constitutional guarantees of equality front and center. Malawi’s decision has given hope to thousands who risk prison sentences under such laws.” Tiseke Kasambala said according to the Washington Post. Kasambala is a Malawian who is the Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
However, Kasambara has rebutted any original reports of him saying that he would be part of a progressive movement geared towards gay rights. The alleged statements from the original reports had already made an impact and later were condemned by the Malawi Law Society and churches in the region according to the LA Times.
Earlier this year, President Joyce Banda announced that she was in favor of repealing Malawi’s anti-gay laws. However, Banda is going against a strong trend in many countries and regions in Africa, where homosexuals are consistently being prosecuted. Her comments were condemned by religious leaders and they accused her of trying to please Western donor nations, who have recently pushed Malawi to repeal its law banning homosexuality.
In 2010, two gay Malawian men were jailed for 14 years after they announced their engagement and only after intense international pressure, were they pardoned and released.
Currently 76 countries, 38 of them in Africa, have criminalized consensual same-sex conduct, according to Human Rights Watch.