Malawi says it will review anti-gay laws in light of “public opinion”

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The Malawian Justice Minister has included the country’s anti-gay laws in a list of legislation he wants reviewed, saying the rules may not reflect “public opinion”.

Ephraim Chiume said: “In view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws, the government wishes to announce to the Malawi nation that it is submitting the relevant laws and provisions of laws to the Law Commission for review.”

Section 153 of Malawi’s penal code currently prohibits “unnatural offences”. Section 156 concerns “public decency” and is used to punish gay acts and expel tourists who commit them from the country.

The decision to review the anti-gay parts of the penal code, as well as laws obliging the press to serve the interests of Malawians and protecting the government from legal action, comes after key aid announcements by the UK and the US.

Last month, the UK government confirmed aid would be redirected away from the central governments of countries who do not protect citizens’ human rights.

Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton delivered a groundbreaking speech at the UN detailing the Obama administration’s instruction that, for the first time, government agencies take LGBT rights into account when making aid and asylum decisions.

Last year, a gay man and trans woman, who were sentenced to 14 years in prison for sodomy after they held a party to celebrate their engagement, were pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika following international condemnation of the sentence.

The trial judge had said: “Malawi is not ready to see its sons getting married to its sons.”

During the trial, President Bingu wa Mutharika said being gay was “evil and very bad before the eyes of God”.

One half of the couple, Tiwonge Chimbalanga, later sought asylum in Canada after continued persecution following the couple’s split.