Secretary for Justice and Solicitor General Dr Janet Chikaya-Banda (Pic: Africa Research Institute)

The government of Malawi has confirmed that it has suspended arresting gay people until a review of its anti-gay laws are complete.

According to the Nyasa Times, Secretary for Justice and Solicitor General Dr Janet Chikaya-Banda told a UN human rights committee that Malawian authorities would not pursue anyone for having consensual gay sex.

This is the first official confirmation that the country is not enforcing the criminalisation of homosexuality since a suspension of the laws was first discussed in 2012.

Chikaya-Banda also revealed that efforts to review the anti-gay laws had stalled due to a lack of finances, although she insisted that there is still political will to do so.

Despite the announcement, three men – Amon Champyuni, Mathew Bello and Mussa Chiwisi – remain jailed for homosexuality charges. They were sentenced to prison terms of between six and 12 years, with hard labour, by a magistrates’ court in 2011.

The issue of LGBT rights in Malawi was thrust into the international spotlight in 2010 when Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment on charges related to same-sex sexual conduct. They were eventually pardoned and released.

In May 2012, former President Joyce Banda announced her intention to overturn the country’s ban on homosexuality but she later reversed her stance, saying that the majority of Malawians were not in favour of this.

In November 2012, it was reported that Malawi had “suspended” laws criminalising homosexuality pending a parliamentary vote, but three days later the then Attorney General and Minister of Justice Ralph Kasambara, stated that, “There was no such announcement…”

In remains unclear what happened to a High Court challenge by various groups, backed by the United Nations HIV and AIDS campaign UNAIDS, to overturn the criminalisation of homosexuality.

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