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Malawi suspends anti-gay laws

Malawi's moratorium has attracted a lot of attention in Africa, where two-thirds of countries criminalize homosexuality.

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Moving against the tide of anti-gay legislation in the region, Malawi announced this week that the suspension of its laws criminalizing homosexuality, promising public and parliamentary debates on the issue that could potentially repeal the laws altogether.

Ralph Kasambara, Malawi’s justice minister, said the moratorium meant police would no longer be able to arrest or prosecute gays or lesbians.

“It is now up to all stakeholders including civil society to encourage a robust debate,” Mr. Kasambara said. “We agree as a nation that we have to be bold on the issue.”

The move is a controversial one on the African continent, where homosexuality is banned in two-thirds of countries.

“The majority view here is that homosexuality is immoral and evil,” says local blogger Steve Sharra.

But Malawi's decision has been broadly welcomed by human rights activists, who say the laws criminalizing homosexual activities with up to 14 years in prison are simply holdovers from colonial times.

“No one should go to prison for consensual relations with someone of the same sex, and Malawi’s decision has given hope to thousands who risk prison sentences under such laws,” says Tiseke Kasambala from Human Rights Watch.

Malawi made headlines around the world in 2009 when two gay men were arrested and charged with “gross indecency” for getting married. Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment and spent five months in jail until then President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned them on May 29 the following year.

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