Malawi has halted the enforcement of laws that criminalise same-sex relationships after comments made by the country’s Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara.

According to Reuters, Mr Kasambara, who is also the Attorney General, said he wanted to have a debate on the issue before parliament decided whether to keep the laws or not.

“If we continue arresting and prosecuting people based on the said laws and later such laws are found to be unconstitutional it would be an embarrassment to government,” Mr Kasambara told Reuters.

“It is better to let one criminal get away with it rather than throw a lot of innocent people in jail.”

At the moment, those convicted of homosexual acts can be imprisoned by up to 14 years.

In response, Amnesty International’s southern Africa director Noel Kututwa released a statement welcoming the decision, describing it “as the first step towards ending discrimination and persecution based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity in Malawi.”

Over the past few months, Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has been sending out mixed messages on the issue.

At the beginning of her presidency in May, she announced that she would be seeking to repeal the current legislation.

However, last month, Mrs Banda told the Associated Press that Malawi wasn’t ready to undertake such a move, saying: “Anyone who has listened to the debate in Malawi realises that Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now.”