The justice minister in Malawi has called for a moratorium on arrests and prosecutions under laws that ban homosexual activity.
“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,” Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara told Reuters. “It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail.”
The move is the latest in a series of actions that have left the status of the Malawi anti-homosexuality laws in doubt. Shortly after Joyce Banda became Malawi’s president earlier this year, she announced that she would seek the repeal of those laws, but recently she commented that the parliament was not ready for that change.
According to press reports, LGBT people in Malawi have not been arrested recently for violating the anti-homosexuality law. The most recent publicized case involved a male couple who were tried and sentenced, then pardoned, after claiming to have become engaged to be married.
LGBT activists gave credit to Malawian activist groups CEDEP and CHRR.
The international gay-rights group All Out welcomed the announcement.
“This is an African solution to an African problem and Minister Kasambara and President Banda should be commended for their leadership and foresight,” said Andre Banks, Executive Director and Co-Founder of AllOut.org. “Laws that make it illegal to be gay are a Western export and Malawi has created its own path to undo the enduring and tragic legacy of British colonial laws that made it a crime to live openly and love who you choose. President Banda is setting an example for leaders across Africa to do the same. The time has come to relieve millions across the continent from persecution and violence.”
“All Out is working to bring equality everywhere,” said Guillaume Bonnet, Senior Global Campaigner who has led All Out campaigns to decriminalize in Cameroon and block anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia and Eastern Europe. “There are more than 76 countries where it is a crime to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or trans. By taking action this week, Malawi is building momentum for that fight in Africa and around the world. We’re one step closer to our goal.”