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Gay sex ban in Malawi fuels anti-LGBTI violence

Gay sex ban in Malawi fuels anti-LGBTI violence

Pacharo Kayira, Chief State Justice of Malawi, Human Rights Division, spoke to Human Rights Watch (Photo: YouTube).

Malawi’s laws criminalizing same-sex relations continue to create violence and discrimination in the southeast African country.

The repressive legislation and social stigma allow police to abuse the LGBTI community unchecked, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

LGBTI people also, therefore, struggle to access healthcare.

Sections 153 and 156 of Malawi’s Criminal Code prohibit ‘unnatural offenses’ and ‘indecent practices between males’. Men face 14 years in prison and women five years.

‘The law criminalizing same-sex conduct contributes to a perception that LGBT people are fair game and can be assaulted without any consequences for the attacker’, said Wendy Isaack, LGBT rights researcher at HRW.

HRW said a 2012 moratorium on arrests from the justice minister was not enough to stem the violence. The rights group urged Malawi to repeal the rights-abusing laws.

In February 2016, a gay man was reportedly beaten, nearly to death, by a gang in the capital Lilongwe.

Routine discrimination

The 61-page HRW report shows how LGBTI people in Malawi are easily victims of arbitrary arrests, physical violence, and routine discrimination.

The rights group spoke to 45 LGBT people in Lilongwe and Blantyre as well as lawyers, activists, and government representatives.

The report details many incidents of people being arbitrarily arrested and assaulted.

In one such case, a transgender woman went to a police station to look for a transgender friend who was arrested after being attacked at a market. At the police station, she was slapped and punched by police officers for ‘being gay’.

‘Imagine being beaten up in the street, reporting to the police, and being arrested yourself while your attacker goes free – this happened to people we interviewed, solely because of their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation’, said Isaack.

The repressive laws also prevent LGBTI Malawians from accessing health care, including HIV prevention and treatment.

Malawi issued a moratorium after international condemnation of the arrests of two gay men for holding an engagement ceremony.
But, Christian religious leaders pressured the Mzuzu High Court to issue an order suspending the moratorium pending judicial review.

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