A group of pastors in Malawi has cynically used research aimed at ending the HIV epidemic in the country to call for the arrest of 4,000 gay people.
The move follows the release of statistics by the Centre for the Development of the People (Cedep) indicating that there are around 4,000 homosexuals in the city of Mzuzu.
The research was undertaken together with the UN and Johns Hopkins University with the aim of helping stakeholders plan HIV prevention programmes that are inclusive of gay, bi and men who have sex with men.
Cedep Executive Director Gift Trapence told The Nation that the research indicates “that the issue of homosexuality is real”.
He explained: “That’s why we are disseminating the survey results across the county for organisations to make proper planning when designing their programmes.”
The researchers found that 73 percent of the 4,000 individuals surveyed identified themselves as gay while 26 percent said they were bisexual.
The figures, however, have now been cited as a basis for moral panic by the Young Pastors Coalition of Malawi (YPCM), reports News24.
“We want the group that conducted the survey to present the names of the 4,000 homosexuals to police so that they can be arrested and face prosecution,” said the pastors in a statement.
They demanded that officials including the director of public prosecutions and the inspector general of police “take action and treat any homosexual as a criminal, the same way thieves are treated as criminals.”
Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu dismissed the call. “Let our pastors continue doing their good work of saving lost souls. However, they should let experts in human rights, constitutionalism and law enforcement to do what they are supposed to do,” he said.
The status of LGBT people in Malawi is mired in confusion. In December, Tembenu announced that the government had “imposed a moratorium” on the arrest of Malawians for having gay sex, which carries a penalty of 14 years in prison.
In February, however, the YPCM took the matter to the High Court in Mzuzu, which ruled that the government could not suspend laws. The court “ordered the Malawi police service and the director of public prosecutions to continue arresting and prosecuting gays and lesbians who commit homosexual offences in Malawi.”