As uncertainty surrounds the enforcement of the ban on homosexuality in Malawi, a man has been arrested for ‘gross indecency’ over suspicion that he is gay.
The Nyasa Times reported last week that the 24-year-old man was arrested in the city of Mzuzu, “for presumed homosexuality”.
The arrest was confirmed by national police in Lilongwe and the Northern Region police.
The man, detained “on suspicion that he is gay” is being charged with gross indecency and was still being held behind bars at the time of the report.
Under Sections 153 and 156 of the Penal Code, homosexuality is outlawed in Malawi with penalties of up to 14 years in prison.
The status of LGBTI people in Malawi, however, is unclear. In December 2015, Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu ordered a moratorium on the arrest of Malawians for having gay sex. The courts have, however, ruled that the government cannot suspend a law and that only parliament can do so.
In January 2017 it was reported that two men were arrested in Lilongwe on allegations that they committed “acts of sodomy”. It was claimed that some members of the community took the law into their own hands by harassing the “suspects” and destroying their property.
Anti-gay religious groups have called on the government to hold a referendum on decriminalising homosexuality, knowing that most Malawians would likely vote against doing so. A 2016 Afrobarometer survey found that just 6% of Malawians would be comfortable with having gay neighbours.
In August last year, the Malawi Human Rights Commission called for the country’s homosexuality ban to be suspended while it conducts a public inquiry on the issue. Human Rights Watch expressed its concerns about the objectives of the inquiry, arguing that “the rights of a minority should not be granted or withheld based on the views of the majority”.
Meanwhile, as confusion reigns around the the status of LGBT people in Malawi, members of the community continue to face a dangerous and uncertain future.