Kenya court delays decision on anti-gay sex law

Three-month delay prompts dismay among Kenya's LGBT community and its allies.

    Kenyan LGBT activists have long worked to end criminalisation of same-sex relationships [Baz Ratner/Reuters]
    Kenyan LGBT activists have long worked to end criminalisation of same-sex relationships [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

    Kenya's High Court has postponed a much-anticipated ruling on whether to scrap colonial-era laws which criminalise gay sex, citing a heavy caseload.

    Friday's announcement of a delay was met with dismay by Kenya's LGBT community and their allies, who have been anxiously awaiting a ruling on the petition, which was filed three years ago.

    "The files are above my height... we are still working," said Chacha Mwita, one of the judges, who added that one of his colleagues was on leave and that the three-judge bench was juggling multiple cases.

    Mwita set the decision for May 24.

    "We plan to meet in April if all goes well and see whether we can come up with a decision. You do not appreciate what the judges are going through."

    Gay rights organisations are asking the court to scrap two sections of the penal code that criminalise gay sex.

    One section states that anyone who has "carnal knowledge... against the order of nature" can be imprisoned for 14 years. Another provides for a five-year jail term for "indecent practices between males".

    On social media, Kenya's LGBT community and its allies had been anxiously counting down the hours to the ruling.

    "To say we are disappointed would be an understatement," the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council (NGLHRC), one of the petitioners, wrote on Twitter.

    Prominent Kenyan commentator Patrick Gathara slammed a "sad, sad day" for the judiciary, describing the postponement as "ludicrous".

    Activists believe Kenya has a chance to blaze a trail in Africa where homophobia is virulent in many communities, with similar laws in over half the countries on the continent.

    While convictions under the decades-old laws are rare, gay activists say the legislation is unconstitutional and fuels homophobic persecution.

    Imani Kimiri of the NGLHRC's legal team told AFP news agency her office dealt with 15 prosecutions under the laws in 2018, but could not recall the last conviction - slamming the process as "just a frustrating endeavour".

    The petitioners argue that under Kenya's 2010 constitution, every person is said to be equal before the law. However, the disputed sections of the penal code contradicted it.

    Those who are blackmailed, evicted, fired, expelled from school, or assaulted over their sexual orientation, are unable to access justice because it means "confessing to a crime", said Eric Gitari of the NGLHRC.

    Activists were optimistic of a ruling in their favour, given recent decisions by the court. In March, the High Court banned forced anal testing of men suspected of being gay.

    And in September, a court ruled that "Rafiki", a film about a lesbian love affair which was the first Kenyan movie to be shown at the Cannes film festival, could be screened domestically for seven days after its initial banning.

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    SOURCE: News agencies