Botswana becomes latest African nation to decriminalize gay sex

File image

File image

Another 29 countries in Africa retain laws criminalizing same sex relations, including Malawi where those found engaging in same-sex sexual acts face a maximum 14 years in prison with hard labour.

In a victory for queer people in Botswana, the Gaborone high court on Tuesday ruled sections of Botswana's Penal Code which criminalises same-sex sexual conduct unconstitutional.

"This judgement can make a massive change for our lives", Anna Mmolai-Chalmers, coordinator of the Botswana-based LGBTQ rights group Legabibo, tells CNN's Fox.

Just weeks ago, Kenya's high court voted to uphold similar laws.

Organisation Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana says its highly likely that the country's attorney-general will appeal the ruling.

Gay sex remains illegal in 34 of Africa's 54 countries, with some of the harshest laws being in the northern African nations of Somalia and Sudan, where being homosexual can result in the death penalty. Botswana's Court ruled on June 11 in favour of decriminalising homosexuality.

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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".

The latest ruling contrasts with Kenya's high court's decision last month that dashed hopes that the country's laws on gay sex would be overturned.

At the high court hearing in Gaborone in March, state officials argued that Botswana society was not yet ready to change its attitude towards homosexuality.

Judge Michael Leburu said anti-sodomy laws are a "British import" and were developed "without consultation of local peoples", according to journalists tweeting from the courtroom. "We are not looking for people to agree with homosexuality but to be tolerant", the written statement of the applicant said, according to The New York Times. "The real work starts now", she said.

It added that the right to privacy included sexual orientation, "which is innate and not a fashion statement", reports the Independent.

Before an expectant audience in the courtroom, the judges agreed with several litigants, among them, Letsweletse Motshidimang, a gay citizen of Botswana who also has the support of local and worldwide organizations such as the South Africa Litigation Center (SALC). Other countries, such as Mozambique and the Seychelles, have simply erased mention of homosexuality from their penal codes during the rewriting process that has accompanied constitutional reform.

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