Malawi: Arrests, Violence against LGBT People

Malawi’s laws prohibiting consensual same-sex relations foster a climate of fear and fuel violence and discrimination, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The punitive legal environment combined with social stigma allows police abuse to go unchecked and prevents many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from reporting violence or getting medical care.

The 61-page report, “‘Let Posterity Judge’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in Malawi,”shows how the lack of clarity about the legal status of same-sex conduct leaves LGBT people vulnerable to arbitrary arrests, physical violence, and routine discrimination. The justice minister issued a moratorium on arrests for adult consensual same-sex conduct in 2012, but there are divergent views about its legality.

“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 Human Rights Watch. “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.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 45 LGBT people in Lilongwe and Blantyre as well as lawyers, activists, and government representatives. Researchers found a number of cases in which police arbitrarily arrested and detained transgender people and, in some cases, physically assaulted them. Some medical professionals denied people services based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sections 153 and 156 of Malawi's Criminal Code prohibit "unnatural offenses" and "indecent practices between males.” After a high-profile arrest and conviction in 2010 that resulted in international condemnation, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, in 2012, issued a moratorium on arrests and prosecutions for consensual homosexual acts. In December 2015, justice minister Samuel Tembenu reaffirmed the 2012 moratorium but a year later, following successful litigation initiated by Christian religious leaders, the Mzuzu High Court issued an order suspending the moratorium pending judicial review. As the law stands, adult consensual same-sex conduct is punishable by up to 14 years in prison for men and five years for women. Human Rights Watch found that people whose gender expression differs from social expectations, including transgender people whom the police and public perceive as lesbian or gay, appear most likely to be targeted.  Read more via Human Rights Watch

See the full report here