LILILONGWE, Malawi — Malawian Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara on Thursday backtracked on statements regarding possible suspension of arrests of LGBT persons in this small landlocked country in southeastern Africa.
Kasambara, who was widely quoted earlier this week in press reports as saying the government would suspend arrests pending a decision on whether to repeal laws banning homosexuality, told reporters that the laws carrying penalties of up to 14 years in prison for committing homosexual acts were still being enforced.
Kasambara, a former human rights lawyer who now serves as the country’s attorney general, had said the government of President Joyce Banda had advised police not to target anyone deemed to be gay.
But pressure from a group of 24 influential Protestant churches was responsible for forcing the government to reverse its position and deny examining making possible changes, a Malawian Justice ministry source told LGBTQ Nation.
“Our stance has always been that this practice should be criminalized because it runs contrary to our Christian values,” said Reverend Osborne Joda-Mbewe, Secretary General of the Malawi Council of Churches.
Sections 153 and 156 of Malawi’s penal code criminalizes sexual conduct between men, and those convicted face up to 14 years imprisonment, with or without corporal punishment.
In 2009, Malawi drew international condemnation when a gay couple in held a public wedding ceremony and were arrested and charged with “gross indecency.” A judge convicted and sentenced the two men on charges of unnatural acts and gross indecency, both colonial-era laws.
Then-President Bingu wa Mutharika announced a pardon of Steven Monjeza, 26, and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, 20, after meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and following a withdrawal of financial aid from the United Kingdom and other western countries.
A recent report presented to Mutharika’s successor, Joyce Banda, recommended decriminalization of homosexuality as a way of helping fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Homosexuality is illegal in 36 African nations, and Malawi’s anti-gay laws have caused friction with Western donors, whose assistance is crucial to propping up the economy of the impoverished nation.