President Bingu wa Mutharika

In the face of international pressure, including the suspension of foreign aid, over its stance on LGBT rights, Malawi’s President Bingu Wa Mutharika has signed a bill into law that criminalises lesbianism.

Earlier this week it was reported that the US and Germany are withholding aid to Malawi, which in 2009 imprisoned a same-sex couple despite global outrage.

While homosexuality between men has been illegal in Malawi, sex between women was previously not included in the law.

The new Section 137A, titled “Indecent practices between females,” stipulates that any woman who, either in public or private, commits “any act of gross indecency with another female” will face a prison term of five years.

The International Commission of Jurists issued a strongly worded statement describing Malawi’s criminalisation of lesbianism as “an affront to human dignity” and said that it “seriously undermines Malawi’s human rights commitments under international law”.

In a news conference on Wednesday in the capital Lilongwe, Presidential Spokesman Ntaba railed against countries which have demanded that Malawi decriminalise homosexuality.

“In as far as we cannot run away from the fact that we need their aid, it is absurd for these countries to be forcing the country to embrace immoral cultures. We are a sovereign state and we deserve to be treated as such, aid or no aid,” said Ntaba.

The Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Dr George Chaponda, added: “We are not ready to change the laws to satisfy donors. We have to understand that as a country you need to have certain principals for the benefit of the country.”

The Minister then appeared to contradict the new law in a bid to appease critics by suggesting that if homosexuality was kept private it was unlikely to lead to prosecution:

“…since such acts occur in private and that Malawi laws on privacy are enriched in the constitution it is very difficult to prosecute homosexuality,” he said.

Malawi was thrown into the international spotlight in December 2009 after the arrest of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga on charges of homosexuality following their public engagement ceremony.

They were jailed for 14 years but were later grudgingly pardoned and released by President Mutharika thanks to personal intervention by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.

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