Africa

3 in Malawi prisons await ruling on sodomy law

Powerful figures in Malawi are battling in court over whether the country’s law against homosexual activity should be repealed.

Malawi President Peter Mutharika (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Peter Mutharika, whose victory in Malawi’s presidential election in May was accepted after a dispute. (Photo courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Malawian human rights activists argue that the law that criminalizes homosexual behavior (Section 153) is unconstitutional and in violation of  Malawi’s legal protections for citizens regardless of their sex, race, tribe or religion.

The focus of the appeal is the case of three prisoners — Amon Champyuni, Mathews Bello and Musa Chiwisi — who were convicted in 2011 and are serving sentences ranging from 10 to 14 years for practicing homosexuality.

Under Malawian law, sexual intimacy between men is punishable by 14 years in prison; for women, the punishment is five years.

Those seeking to overturn the nation’s anti-gay laws include the Malawi Law Society, the Centre for Development of the People (Cedep), the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), the University of Malawi’s Faculty of Law, and the Malawi Network of Religious Leaders living with or affected by HIV.

The Attorney General’s office and Pastor Nick Chakwera are arguing in favor of retaining the law.

The law has been on hold since November 2012, when Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara declared a moratorium on arrests and prosecutions related to consensual homosexual activity.  He later denied making that decision, but no arrests have been reported since then.

Former Malawi President Joyce Banda

Former Malawi President Joyce Banda

In 2012, President Joyce Banda called for the repeal of the law, but she later announced that Malawian legislators were not ready to go along with her on that plan.

In November 2013, Malawi’s High Court decided to review the law’s constitutionality. At the time, it invited government agencies, religious bodies and civil society organizations to take part in the review by filing legal papers on the issue.

Since the beginning of this year, the case has largely been enmeshed in legal maneuvering.

In February, the Malawi Muslim Association proposed imposing the death penalty on homosexuals.

Malawi’s justice minister, Fahad Assani, a Muslim, promptly rejected that proposal.

In May’s national election, opposition candidate Peter Mutharika, a widower, of the Democratic Progressive Party turned back Banda’s attempt by retain the presidency. During the campaign, Mutharika denied reports that he is gay. He told the Malawi Voice that:

“Peter Mutharika is not gay, has never been gay, and will never be gay. … God willing, I’m sure I will marry again.”

He has not spoken out about the country’s anti-gay laws.

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