OUT, the Gauteng-based lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) well-being NGO, has condemned the effective banning of lesbianism in Malawi.

Malawi’s President Bingu Wa Mutharika last week signed an amendment to the penal code that criminalises lesbianism in the country with a penalty of five years in prison.

While consenting sex between men was already illegal in the country, with penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment, sex between women was previously not addressed by the law.

“It’s appalling that instead of decriminalising male homosexuality as is required by both its Constitution and its international commitments, Malawi has seen it fit to instead further reduce the rights of its LGBT citizens and in particular its women,” commented OUT’s Director Dawie Nel.

Malawi’s Constitution prohibits discrimination of its citizens and guarantees every person’s right to dignity, freedom of association, freedom of expression and personal privacy, facts which seem to have little influence on the passing of legislation in the country.

“Coming so soon after the international outrage that followed the arrest and trial of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga last year, this move is an outrageous slap in the face to everyone who believes in personal liberty and human rights,” Nel said.

“It adds further momentum to the wave of official homophobia that is spreading across Africa with little reaction from South Africa. President Zuma and his government remain silent despite their obligations under the Constitution, thereby appearing to support the continued oppression of LGBT Africans.”

Nel noted that the climate of fear that has spread through Africa’s LGBT communities also adds barriers to the fight against HIV, something which Malawi – with one of the highest adult HIV prevalence rates in the world – can ill afford.

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