GABORONE (Reuters) - Botswana’s highest court on Wednesday rejected an attempt by the government to ban a gay rights lobby group, providing a rare victory for African gay rights campaigners on a continent where homosexuality remains highly contentious.
The president of the Court of Appeals, Judge Ian Kirby, upheld a 2014 lower court judgment that the Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana should be allowed to register and campaign for changes in anti-gay legislation.
“It is clear that the government’s decision (to seek the ban) interferes in the most fundamental way with the respondents’ right to form an association to protect and promote their interest,” Kirby said.
The ruling is a challenge to an anti-gay agenda pursued by the government of President Ian Khama in Botswana, where engaging in homosexual acts remains illegal.
Khama’s government has refused to distribute condoms in prison, citing the risks of increased homosexual acts, a move strongly opposed by Botswana’s HIV and AIDS rights groups.
The country has one of the world’s highest rates of HIV infection.
“There is a lot that still has to be done to ensure the promotion and protection of the human rights of the LGBT persons,” said Cindy Kelemi, who works for local health advocacy group BONELA.
Homosexuality remains taboo in many African societies where some religious groups have branded it a corrupting import from the West. Nigeria passed a draconian anti-gay law this year and Uganda is debating similar legislation.
Writing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Gareth Jones