Botswana strikes down colonial-era law and legalises homosexuality

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By Euronews  with Reuters
 An activist holds up a rainbow flag to celebrate inside Botswana High Court
An activist holds up a rainbow flag to celebrate inside Botswana High Court

"Any criminalisation of love, of finding fulfilment in love, dilutes compassion and tolerance."

With these powerful words, a Botswana High Court on Tuesday emphatically struck down section 164 of the country's penal code that had considered same-sex relations a punishable offence.

The court ruled that the erstwhile law violated constitutional rights by denying liberty, dignity, privacy and equality to Botswanian citizens.

Botswana's penal code, drawn up during the British rule, painted homosexuality as "carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature". Those convicted of the "offence" could face up to seven years in prison. In addition, "indecent practices between persons" in public or private, were punishable with up to two years in prison.

"Discrimination has no place in this world. All human beings are born equal. Homosexuality is another form of sexuality that has been suppressed for years," said Justice Michael Leburu.

The high court was hearing a petition made by a young Botswanian activist and university student who had challenged the archaic law, saying that society had changed since parts of the penal code had been written. He said that homosexuality was now widely accepted.

The LGBT community in Botswana were hopeful after recent rulings that partially acknowledged the rights of gay people, including their right to equal protection before the law.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi had also signalled his support for same-sex relations in a speech in December 2018, where he said LGBT citizens deserve to have their rights protected.

Amnesty International welcomed the decision as "marking an exciting new era of acceptance, which should inspire other African countries to follow suit".

Botswana's ruling comes a month after Kenya's high court upheld its anti-homosexuality laws, keeping gay sex punishable by 14 years in jail.

Even though the atmosphere in Botswana was celebratory on the day of the ruling, activists were aware that the judgement was just a beginning.

"We still have a long way to go to engage all opposing factions, be it our religious community, our cultural community — we need to engage them and educate them about the need to be tolerant," Cindy Kelemi, executive director of the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS, told local newspaper MMEGI after the judgement.

By legalising homosexuality, Botswana has joined other African countries like Angola, Seychelles, Mozambique and South Africa.

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