Three men sentenced under tough anti-gay laws in Malawi have begun their appeal to the country’s high court.

It is a key moment in the fate of the laws, as lobbyists are hoping the court will decide to throw out the laws.

Gift Trapence, director of civil rights group the Centre for Development of People, is asking the court to declare the laws unconstitutional.

The men were originally sentenced in 2011 to between six and 12 years of imprisonment with hard labour for homosexual acts.

In May 2012, President Joyce Banda initially pledged to repeal the laws, but later declared that Malawi was “not ready” to decriminalise homosexuality.

Enforcement of anti-gay laws was temporarily halted in November 2012, when then-Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara directed arrests to stop, pending a debate in parliament.

However, after a fierce reaction from churches and lobbying groups, enforcement of the laws was reinstated a few days later.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Malawi with custodial sentences of up to 14 years imprisonment.