Malawi's government announced yesterday that it was reviewing a number of laws, including its anti-gay and anti-lesbian laws.
The announcement led to the headline 'Malawi makes U-turn on disputed laws on media, gays' in local newspaper Maravi Post.
Malawi’s Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Ephraim Chiume said in a statement:
“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.”In July there were protests against the government of President Bingu wa Mutharika. The protests were driven by a deteriorating economy but also a ban on publications deemed “contrary to the public interest” and the government’s ban on demonstrations.
Mutharika, naming NGO leaders as inciting riots, said at the time:
"I will also hunt you in your homes. You will not hide, I will smoke you out, muziwanso. You should go back to your fathers and mothers from the West, who have sent you."The government was blaming the economic situation on a withdrawal of aid from the UK and other countries. The UK's action followed a diplomatic spat with Malawi after internal UK Foreign Office documents on the deteriorating human rights situation in that country were made public.
The UK said the aid withdrawal was because of the government's bad governance and moves against civil society and the media. Malawi however blamed it on NGOs supporting LGBT human rights. Opposition protests were called 'gay rights rallies'.
Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) bulletins said that organisers of the demonstrations wanted to use photographs of demonstrators to show to foreign aid donors that Malawians support gay rights and same-sex marriages. A presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba said that organisers of the demonstrations have been receiving “huge” sums of money from gay rights bodies outside the country.
Laws to be reviewed include those allowing bans on publications and demonstrations, warrant-less searches and a law that doesn’t allow citizens to sue the government.
The government has not said how long the law review will take or when it will start.