by Rachel Ogbu
Police in Malawi have been ordered not to arrest or prosecute same sex couples pending a decision on whether to repeal the legislation, the justice minister has said.
For now, Malawi has suspended laws against same-sex relationships until parliament has debated the issue.
At present, homosexual acts carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail.
Some Western leaders have suggested they would cut aid to African countries failing to recognise gay rights.
Homosexuality is illegal in most African nations and remains a controversial topic in Malawi’s traditionally conservative society.
One of Malawi’s most influential traditional leaders, Chief Kaomba, has urged the government not to let parliament change its laws on homosexuality.
“This is against our culture,” he said.
The BBC reports that repealing the legislation would be an unpopular move with many church leaders, as well as the wider population.
In 2010, two Malawian men were arrested and charged with public indecency after saying they were getting married.
The prosecution drew international condemnation and led to some donors withdrawing budget support – a major blow to one of the world’s poorest countries.
The then-president Bingu wa Mutharika – who died of a heart attack earlier this year – pardoned both men on “humanitarian grounds” but said they had “committed a crime against our culture, against our religion, and against our laws”.
However Mutharika’s successor, Joyce Banda, told MPs shortly after taking office that she wanted to overturn the ban on homosexuality.