Malawi: Churches force U-turn on gay rights

The government has back-tracked on its decision to suspend the arrests of gay people, after churches fiercely criticised the move.

The Justice Minister, Ralph Kasambara, was widely quoted in media this week as saying the government would suspend arrests pending a decision on whether to repeal laws banning homosexuality.

However, he said yesterday he had never made such statements and that laws carrying up to 14 years in prison for committing homosexual acts were still being enforced. "There was no such announcement and there was no discussion on same-sex marriage," he told The Daily Times.

Homosexuality is illegal in 36 African nations and Malawi's anti-gay laws have caused friction with Western donors, whose assistance is crucial to propping up the economy of the impoverished southern African nation.

Justice ministry sources said pressure from the Malawi Council of Churches, a group of 24 Protestant churches, forced the U-turn.