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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.
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.
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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.
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