Malawi is shelving its laws against homosexuality pending a vote on whether to repeal them, a rights group said, a bold move in a continent that mostly criminalizes such relationships.
The justice minister said the laws are suspended and police cannot arrest or prosecute homosexuals until parliament votes, Amnesty International said in a statement Monday.
Same-sex relationships are illegal in the southern Africa nation and carry a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. In 2010, Malawi made international headlines when it arrested two men for getting married. The two were later pardoned after an international outcry.
"Amnesty International welcomes Minister (Ralph) Kasambara's statement and hopes it serves as the first step toward ending discrimination and persecution based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Malawi," said Noel Kututwa, the rights group's director for southern Africa.
Earlier this year, President Joyce Banda pledged to review the laws in a move aimed at boosting relationships with international donors. Critics accused her predecessor, who died in April, of rebelling against the international community and risking foreign aid that benefits the poor.
Foreign donors, including Britain, have threatened to withhold aid from nations violating gay rights. The same year Malawi arrested the two men, it also detained a man for putting up posters supporting homosexuality. Homosexuality is illegal in most African countries, where sodomy laws were introduced during colonialism.