Botswana’s appeal court on Wednesday ruled that the government was wrong to refuse to register an organisation that represents homosexuals and sexual minority groups, in a case testing the country’s anti-homosexuality laws.
Activists launched the legal battle after the Home Affairs ministry rejected an application to register the Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) organization.
The court dismissed Home Affairs Minister Edwin Batshu’s argument that registration might encourage members of LEGABIBO to break the law.
“That concern or reason for refusal was irrational on the evidence before us, so there can be no question of his decision being necessary in the interests of public order,” said Ian Kirby, who handed down the ruling from a five-judge bench.
He said the refusal to allow the registration of LEGABIBO was unconstitutional.
The judgment upheld a 2014 High Court ruling that declared that the 20 applicants were entitled to assemble and associate under the name LEGABIBO.
The Attorney General representing the government appealed against the High Court decision.
“The (appeal court) judgment emphasizes the importance of the fundamental right of individuals to freely associate,” said Tashwill Esterhuizen, of the Southern African Litigation Centre legal rights group.
“The ability… to campaign for human rights is important and all governments have a duty to protect the right to freedom of association.”
Botswana is touted as one of Africa’s most democratic nations, yet homosexuality is outlawed under the penal code of 1965, and punishable by prison term of up to seven years.
Homosexuality is a crime in most African countries.
South Africa is the only country on the continent whose constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and recognizes same-sex marriages.
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