Botswana decriminalizes gay sex in landmark Africa case


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Botswana became the latest country to decriminalize gay sex today, a landmark case for Africa, as the High Court rejected laws punishing it with up to seven years in prison.

Jubilant activists in the packed courtroom cheered the unanimous decision in the southern African nation that is seen as one of the continent's most stable and democratic.

The ruling came less than a month after Kenya's High Court had upheld similar sections of its own penal code in another closely watched case.

"Botswana is the ninth country in the past five years to have decriminalized consensual same-sex relationships," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

"Consensual same-sex sexual relationships remain criminalized in at least 67 countries and territories worldwide," he told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

More than two dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa have laws criminalizing gay sex, often holdovers from colonial times. Earlier this year, the southern African nation of Angola decriminalized same-sex activity and banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Those arguing against the laws say they leave people in the LGBT community vulnerable to discrimination and abuse while making it difficult to access basic health and other services.

The Botswana-based nongovernmental group LEGABIBO, which supported the anonymous petitioner in the case, has said such laws "infringe on basic human dignity."

People in the courtroom were ecstatic, leaping up, clapping and ululating, LEGABIBO legal policy director Caine Youngman told The Associated Press. When the judges said the right to privacy includes the right to choose a partner, "it hit home," he said.

"I'm a gay man. I've been out for many years. Now I can live with my partner without worry," Youngman said. He said the state might appeal "to appease the homophobes" and has 30 working days to do so.

The ruling led to rejoicing from rights groups that had expressed frustration with the Kenyan decision last month, including ones in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda and Ghana where gay sex remains illegal. Amnesty International called on other African nations to follow Botswana's example in "an exciting new era of acceptance."

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