NAIROBI, Sept 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A battle in Kenya’s courts to throw out a British colonial-era law criminalising gay sex has been reinvigorated after India scrapped similar legislation in a landmark ruling last week, LGBT rights campaigners said on Wednesday.
Homosexuality is taboo in the east African nation and the persecution of sexual minorities is rife. Under sections of Kenya’s penal code, gay sex - or “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” - is punishable by up to 14 years in jail.
Campaigners are petitioning Kenya’s high court to repeal the sections, saying they violate constitutional rights to equality, dignity and privacy. A three-judge bench is expected to give a date for the verdict on Sept 20.
“We are very encouraged by what we are seeing from India. It is the very same fight that we are fighting here in Kenya,” said Kari Mugo, operations manager at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, one of the lead petitioners.
“We both have these old colonial laws but also have these modern constitutions that speak for equality, so we are really hopeful that what we are seeing in India will be replicated here.”
India’s top court scrapped a law that punished gay sex with up to 10 years in jail in a historic verdict on Thursday, sparking celebrations in India and across the world where activists are pushing for similar reforms.
A five-judge bench in India’s Supreme Court was unanimous in overturning the ban, saying any “consensual sexual relationship between two consenting adults - homosexuals, heterosexuals or lesbians - cannot be said to be unconstitutional”.
Campaigners say laws such as those in India and Kenya are relics of British colonial history.
They say the laws are being used daily to discriminate against LGBT people, making it harder for them to get a job or promotion, rent housing or access health and education services.
Same-sex relationships are a crime in more than 70 countries across the world, almost half of which are in Africa - where they are punishable by imprisonment or even death. South Africa is the only African nation to have legalised gay marriage.
Due to a lack of legal protection, campaigners say sexual minorities are routinely abused, assaulted by mobs, raped by police or vigilantes, or enslaved by criminals.
The law against gay sex in Kenya - known as sections 162 and 165 - was introduced during British rule more than 120 years ago. In 2010 Kenya adopted its new constitution, which provides for equality, human dignity and freedom from discrimination.
Campaigners said the fact that the Indian verdict came from a court in the developing world which Kenyans could identify with could work in their favour.
“It is such an amazing verdict. I thought it was so important when Indian judge said the LGBT community had been unfairly treated and we were owed an apology - it struck a chord with us in Kenya,” said gay rights activist Solomon Wambua.
"Even though the hearings are over in Kenya and we are waiting for a verdict, the Indian verdict has added impetus to the case we are fighting in the court at the moment. I mean if India can do it, why can't Kenya?" (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)