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UN to challenge Malawi anti-gay laws

Africa

Lilongwe - The United Nations' AIDS taskforce and human rights groups will launch a court battle against Malawi's laws criminalising homosexuality, in a rare challenge to rising anti-gay legislation in Africa.

The legislation has strained relations between President Joyce Banda's government and international donors, whose aid is desperately needed in the impoverished country.

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Gift Trapence, director of the Centre for the Development of People, which provides a safe space for gay people, answers reporters' questions in Lilongwe in 2011. File picture: Alexander Joe

UNAIDS, the Malawi Law Society and local rights groups will ask the high court on March 17 to overturn as unconstitutional laws banning same-sex relationships.

They will also challenge the convictions of three men jailed in 2011. Homosexuality carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years in the southern African country.

“Our argument is that as long as same-sex relationships are consensual and done in private no one has business to get bothered,” law society spokeswoman Felicia Kilembe said.

Anti-gay sentiment and the persecution of homosexuals is rife in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan this month provoked ire from the United States and the UN after signing a bill criminalising same-sex relationships.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said the Nigerian law could fuel prejudice and violence and risks obstructing an effective HIV/AIDS response.

In Malawi homosexuality became a contentious issue in 2009 when two men were arrested and charged with public indecency for getting married in a traditional ceremony.

They were later pardoned by the late President Bingu wa Mutharika after pressure from donors and the United Nations.

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