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Malawi suspends anti-gay laws ahead of decision on whether to repeal legislation

Malawi has suspended its laws against homosexuality and ordered police not to arrest gays ahead of a national debate and parliamentary decision on whether to scrap the legislation.

Malawi suspends gay laws 20121105Enlarge
Gift Trapence, director of the Centre for the Development of People (CEDEP) which provides a safe space for gays, answers reporters' questions in Lilongwe on July 17, 2011. "It has been a challenge," said Gift Trapence, director of the CEDEP which provides a safe space for gays. "They know that they can be arrested if they are visible." The centre, which once had HIV pamphlets on male sex confiscated as pornography, is currently doing a study to calculate the size of Malawi's homosexual population. (ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Malawi suspended its anti-gay laws Monday ahead of a parliamentary decision on whether to repeal them altogether.

The suspension means police will no longer be allowed to arrest gays and lesbians. Homosexuality is banned in Malawi, as it is in most African countries, and carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara said he wanted to encourage Malawians to freely debate the issue before parliament decided whether to keep the laws against homosexuality.

“The idea to issue a moratorium is that if we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later they are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government," Kasambara told the Nyasa Times.

"It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail," he said.

More from GlobalPost: President Joyce Banda shakes up Malawi

When President Joyce Banda took office in May after the sudden death of Malawi's former leader Bingu wa Mutharika, she pledged to overturn the ban on homosexual acts.

This would make Malawi the first country in Africa to repeal its ban on homosexuality since South Africa in 1994.

In 2010, two Malawian men were charged with unnatural acts and gross indecency and sentenced to 14 years in prison after they announced they would get married.

They were later pardoned by Mutharika on "humanitarian grounds only," following massive international condemnation.

Several Western leaders have said they will halt aid to states that do not recognize gay rights.

More from GlobalPost: The Rainbow Struggle - A Global Battle Over Gay Rights

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/121105/malawi-suspends-anti-gay-laws