Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Botswana Court Rebuffs State Ban on LGBT Group. A Turning Point for Africa?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Botswana Court Rebuffs State Ban on LGBT Group. A Turning Point for Africa?

Article excerpt

A Botswana judge overturned a ban on a gay rights lobbying group Friday, a rare victory for gay rights activists in the southern African country.

On a continent where gays and lesbians remain severely marginalized, the court's decision could have widespread implications for Africa's emerging gay rights movement. Progress remains slow, but the movement appears to be gaining momentum in small pockets across the continent.

Human Rights Watch called the ruling in Botswana a "groundbreaking decision" in a statement released Friday.

"The court's ruling is a significant victory for the LGBT community, not only in Botswana but elsewhere in Africa where LGBT groups have faced similar obstacles to registration," said Monica Tabengwa, a LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The Botswana High Court decision is a milestone in the fight for LGBT people's right to equality under the law."

A group of activists launched the case when it challenged the Home Affairs Ministry's 2012 decision to reject an application to register the country's first gay and lesbian lobbying group - the Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexual of Botswana (LEGABIBO).

Judge Terrence Rannowane said in his verdict that "refusal to register LEGABIBO was not reasonably justifiable under the constitution," Agence France-Presse reports.

Botswana is considered one of Africa's most democratic countries. And although homosexuality, outlawed under the 1965 penal code, is punishable by a maximum prison term of seven years, the judge wrote that:

[T]he applications by LEGABIBO is [sic] not for the registration of their society for the purposes of having same sex relationships, but rather for agitating for legislative reforms so that same sex relationships would be decriminalized. In a democratic society, asking for a particular law to be changed is not a crime, neither is it incompatible with peace welfare and good order.Thus, wrote the judge, the government's refusal to register the group had "violated the applicants' rights to free of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly" under the country's constitution. …

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