Fantastic news to report from Malawi, whose President Joyce Banda made international news when she promised to repeal the southern African nation's anti-gay laws after assuming office in May. The government has just announced that it is repealing those harsh anti-gay laws, reports Reuters.
Malawi becomes the first African nation to do so since South Africa in 1994.
Malawi suspended laws against same-sex relationships on Monday and ordered police not to arrest gays pending a decision on whether to repeal the legislation, a source of friction with the impoverished southern African nation's donors.
"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," he told Reuters. "It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail."
A recent report presented to Mutharika's successor, Joyce Banda, recommended decriminalization of same-sex marriages as a way of helping the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Parliamentary leaders of Banda's ruling Democratic Progressive Party announced a "moratorium" on arrests and prosecutions of suspected gays and lesbians last May. Repeal was not expected immediately.
Malawi faced international condemnation for the May 2010 conviction and 14-year prison sentences given to Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. The couple was convicted of "unnatural acts" and gross indecency" after holding an engagement ceremony. The late President Bingu wa Mutharika eventually pardoned the couple on "humanitarian grounds."
Banda's move reverses the recent trend in Africa in which gays have been increasingly singled out for prosecution. Same-sex acts are currently illegal in Malawi, as they are in at least 38 of 54 African countries. The maximum punishment is 14 years behind bars and hard labor. In September 2009, a senior official first suggested that the conservative African nation "must recognize" gay rights if it hopes to properly address HIV/AIDS.
Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for gays or same-sex activity. South Africa and Seychelles are the only African nations that protect LGBT rights. South Africa is also the only African nation to guarantee marriage equality. Kenya's parliament and supreme court are considering decriminalizing its sodomy statute.
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