Decision has implications for rest of continent, where LGBT people face widespread discrimination
Judges in Kenya’s high court will decide on Friday whether to repeal laws criminalising homosexuality, in a potentially historic decision that has implications for the rest of Africa, where LGBT people face widespread discrimination.
“Everyone all over Africa is paying attention. Whatever happens in Kenya will have a direct impact on us all,” said Frank Mugisha, an activist based in neighbouring Uganda, where homosexuality is outlawed and authorities have attempted to impose harsher sentences on gay people in recent years.
Religious groups in Kenya have opposed any softening of its colonial-era laws, which punish sexual acts deemed “unnatural” with up to 14 years in prison, but pro-repeal campaigners say they are optimistic.
Lawyers acting for LGBT activists have argued that the laws contravene Kenya’s 2010 constitution.
“Our constitution is very progressive but there is legislation in place that is not. Repealing the laws would mean equal recognition … with rights such as the freedom to exist, to associate, to be free from discrimination. All these rights will finally be recognised for queer people in Kenya,” said Lelei Cheruto, of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC).
Hate crimes against gay people – including physical and sexual assault, blackmail and extortion – are common, but most victims are too fearful to go to the police, rights groups say.
“It is a challenge to be gay here because of society. You can be attacked whenever, wherever. There will be protests if we win,” said Mombo Ngua, an activist in Nairobi.
Kenya arrested 534 people for same-sex relationships between 2013 and 2017.
According to the NGLHRC, one of the petitioners against the law, there have been more than 1,500 attacks against LGBT Kenyans since 2014.