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Botswana’s high court is expected to rule Tuesday on whether to decriminalise gay sex in a landmark case being watched across Africa after Kenya recently upheld its own anti-homosexuality laws.
Botswana is regarded as one of Africa’s most stable and democratic nations but homosexuality is outlawed under the country’s penal code of 1965.
In March, the court postponed a ruling on the issue after an unnamed applicant challenged two sections of the penal code under which offenders face a jail sentence of up to seven years.
Activists are hoping the government will do away with the oppressive laws that brand homosexuality as ‘unAfrican’.
“If this law is decriminalised it will be a positive thing for the community because it will protect their right to privacy and their right to express themselves the way they feel,” Matlhogonolo Samsam from Botswana’s lesbian, gay and bisexual organisation (LEGABIBO) told AFP.
Activists launched the legal battle after the Home Affairs ministry rejected an application to register the LEGABIBO.
For outreach worker Thato Game Tsie scrapping the anti-gay laws would help the community access health care and treatment more easily.
“There are many services we require as gay men that some nurses are not aware of, and if we go to a government hospital there will be those negative comments said to you,” Game Tsie told AFP.
“So we just want to be free to access these services. I think it will be a great disappointment if we lose this,” he said.
Last month, Kenya’s High Court refused to repeal laws criminalising homosexuality despite activists’ hopes that it would follow the example of some African countries like Angola, or those further afield like India, and end decades-old laws which criminalise gay sex.
At the Botswana high court hearing in Gaborone in March, lawyers for the applicant said public opinion on same-sex relationships had evolved and employment laws now outlaw discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
In 2016 the country’s appeals court ruled that the government was wrong to refuse to register an organisation representing homosexuals and other minority sexual groups.
President Mokgweetsi Masisi had addressed a meeting on gender-based violence, saying there are “many people of same sex relationships in this country who have been violated and have also suffered in silence”.
“Just like other citizens, they deserve to have their rights protected,” he told the December gathering.
According to watchdogs, more than half of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa have anti-homosexuality laws, although others have moved towards legal tolerance.
Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have scrapped anti-gay laws in recent years.Source: AFP