Justice minister Ralph Kasambara

Churches in Malawi have been blamed for an apparent reversal of plans to suspend the country’s laws that criminalise gay sex.

Justice minister Ralph Kasambara had been widely praised by human rights groups for stating that there would be a moratorium on laws banning gay and lesbian sex, at least until the issue had been debated by parliament.

On Monday night, however, he denied having said any such thing. “There was no such announcement and there was no discussion on same-sex marriage,” he told the Daily Times.

He added that “Nobody talked about suspension of any provision of the Penal Code.”

The newspaper, confusingly, goes on to claim that “he did not, however, refute print media reports that he talked about the said suspension at a minority rights debate organised by the Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Centre for Development of People (Cedep) in Lilongwe on Thursday last week.”

It was at this meeting that he was reported to have said that anti-gay laws would be suspended as it would be an embarrassment if they were later found to be unconstitutional.

Resuters reported that, according to a Justice Ministry source, “pressure from the Malawi Council of Churches, a group of 24 influential Protestant churches, and the Law Society had forced the U-turn”.

“Our stance has always been that this practice should be criminalised because it runs contrary to our Christian values,” Council of Churches’ Secretary General Reverend Osborne Joda-Mbewe told the news agency.

Sections 153 and 156 of Malawi’s Penal Code criminalise same sex sexual conduct between men, and those convicted face up to 14 years imprisonment, with or without corporal punishment.

Section 137A of Malawi’s Penal Code criminalises “indecent practices between females,” with anyone found guilty liable to a prison term of five years.

The Daily Times said that legal experts in Malawi have insisted that only parliament can suspend a law, not the minister.

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