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Kenya awaits ruling in landmark case to legalise gay sex

LGBT Kenyans are anxiously awaiting a verdict in a landmark case seeking to decriminalise gay sex, which right now is punishable by 14 years in jail. Picture: Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez

LGBT Kenyans are anxiously awaiting a verdict in a landmark case seeking to decriminalise gay sex, which right now is punishable by 14 years in jail. Picture: Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Published Mar 2, 2018

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Nairobi - When John

Mathenge finished primary school in the early 1990s, he dreamed

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of becoming a lawyer. But his dreams were shattered when life

showed him what being gay in Kenya meant.

His sexual orientation was seen as sinful from childhood.

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Mathenge's father refused to pay his secondary school fees, and

he found himself homeless and unable to get even menial jobs,

pushing him into sex work.

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Mathenge, 37, said he had been forced to move house numerous

times after landlords discovered he was gay. He regularly puts

up with physical and verbal abuse.

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"I have been evicted from seven houses. I have now moved

quite far from where there are people who know me. I have to

drive for three hours to work just because of my sexuality,"

Mathenge told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We need to change this environment so I can live anywhere I

want, as long as I pay rent."

Mathenge is one of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and

transgender (LGBT) Kenyans anxiously awaiting a verdict in a

landmark case seeking to decriminalise gay sex, which is

punishable by 14 years in jail in the conservative nation.

Homosexuality is taboo across Africa and the persecution of

gay people is rife. Sexual minorities are routinely abused,

assaulted by mobs, raped by police or vigilantes, or enslaved by

criminals, campaigners say.

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

(NGLHRC) is one of the groups that petitioned the court to

repeal sections of a colonial era Penal Code, which it says

violate constitutional rights to equality, dignity and privacy.

LGBT campaigners, Christian and Muslim groups and the office

of the attorney general testified at the three-day High Court

hearing. The court said on Thursday that it would on April 26

announce the date that it will deliver its ruling.

The government said that decriminalisation of gay sex would

lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, which is not

allowed anywhere on the continent apart from South Africa.

"There is a legitimate expectation some of those unions

might end up in marriage," said Jennifer Gitiri, a lawyer with

the attorney general's office.

"In the event that would happen, it would be a violation of

the constitution," she told the court.

NGLHRC director Eric Gitari said the law was used daily to

discriminate against LGBT people - from getting a job or a

promotion, to renting housing or accessing health and education.

"If the law is repealed, people will be able to fight from a

point of legal confidence," he said.

Same-sex acts are illegal in 32 of 54 African countries, and

can lead to imprisonment or even the death penalty, according to

the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex

Association.

There are no accurate figures on the size of Kenya's LGBT

community, rights groups said, because many people are afraid to

disclose their orientation for fear of being targeted.

Kenya prosecuted 595 people under the Penal Code between

2010 and early 2014, the government reported.

"This law places so much power in the hands of the police

and prosecutor," said Gitari, whose organisation provides legal

support to people facing prosecution.

"If the law is repealed, all the criminal cases against

people will collapse or will be void."

Despite vehement opposition from powerful bodies, Mathenge

remained hopeful.

"Even if the courts rule against our favour, we will still

continue to fight," he said. "Maybe this case will be an

eye-opener and people will realise that there are gay men in

Kenya."

Thomson Reuters Foundation

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