JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The Malawian government will not arrest or prosecute gay citizens while lawmakers review existing anti-gay laws, the country's justice minister said, after prosecutors dropped charges against a same-sex couple.
Earlier this month, two men were detained by a neighborhood watch team, who turned them over to police, according to Human Rights Watch and the Centre for the Development of the People. Members of the neighborhood group forced their way into the couple's home, ransacking it. The men were then forced to undergo medical tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted disease and charged with sodomy, the groups said in a joint statement.
"The next step will be for the government to get rid of discriminatory laws altogether, including those that criminalize consensual sex between adults of the same sex," said Gift Trapence, director of the Centre for the Development of the People, a Malawian human rights organization.
This was the first arrest of gays since 2009, when a gay couple was jailed and convicted in a highly publicized trial. Late President Bingu wa Mutharika pardoned the pair a year later, the rights groups said. Malawi moved to stop prosecuting gay citizens after former President Joyce Banda threw her support behind the decriminalization of same-sex relationships, the statement said.
Now under a new president, Malawi's Minister of Justice Samuel Tembenu reaffirmed a commitment the country made in 2012, when it suspended the enforcement of colonial-era laws that went against a constitutional guarantee of human rights.