Case to decriminalize gay sex filed in Kenya's High Court

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A gay rights campaigner filed a case in Kenya’s High Court on Friday calling for the demineralization of gay sex, which is punishable by 14 years in jail in the conservative east African nation.

Un-identified participants attend a work shop during the World Social Forum in Nairobi, January 23, 2007. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

Eric Gitari, who heads the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, asked the court to strike out sections of the Penal Code criminalizing gay sex because, he says, they violate constitutional rights to equality, dignity and privacy.

The law makes “carnal knowledge... against the order of nature” a crime attracting a 14 year sentence while “gross indecency with another male” is punishable by five years in jail.

“Those laws degrade the inherent dignity of affected individuals by outlawing their most private and intimate means of self-expression,” the petition said.

Homosexuality is taboo across Africa - only South Africa permits same-sex marriage - and the persecution of gay people is rife, with religious leaders often inciting mob violence against them.

Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto said in 2015 there was “no room” for gay people in Kenya.

Kenya prosecuted 595 people under the Penal Code between 2010 and early 2014, the government reported.

The law makes it socially acceptable to persecute, intimidate and blackmail sexual minorities, he said, especially those who are afraid to come out.

“We have been dealing with a lot of cases of violence, of people beating up people because they disagree with their sexual orientation,” he said in a telephone interview, referring to some of the national commission’s legal aid cases.

“Our clients... are not willing to follow up these cases with the police because they don’t know how to explain to the police what they were doing with other men in the privacy of their bedrooms without admitting to committing offences.”

Gitari won the right in court in 2015 to register his group but the government has refused to do so.

He is also involved in a case challenging the government’s use of forced anal tests to prove that two men in the city of Mombasa were having sex.

The petition will be heard in October, he said.