NAIROBI – Kenya’s High Court declined on Friday to decriminalize same-sex relations, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years, a decision that came as a blow to the LGBT+ community in the East African nation.
Three judges unanimously upheld article 162 and 165 of Kenya’s penal code.
“The petitioners have failed to prove that the provisions are discriminatory. There is no evidence to show that the petitioners were discriminated and their rights violated as they sought healthcare,” judge Chaca Mwita told the press.
The High Court judges said the two articles in question did not apply exclusively to the LGBT community and that anyone found in breach of the law in that regard could be punished.
The articles in question are a hangover from British colonial rule in Kenya and deem sodomy and same-sex acts a crime against nature.
The lawsuit was originally brought before Kenya’s judiciary back in 2016 by pro-LGBT+ rights groups who argued the laws were dated, discriminatory, fueled homophobia and contradicted the constitution, which says all people are equal in the eyes of the law.
Article 162, which pertains to acts “against nature” can carry a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
The ruling was originally slated to take place on Feb. 22 but was postponed last minute due to the unanticipated workload on the case, according to Mwita.
The complainants now have the option to bring the case to the Supreme Court, the highest rung of judicial power in Kenya. However, once there, the case could take years to conclude.
In 2018, Kenyan authorities banned the screening of the film “Rafiki,” a lesbian romance film, and the country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has previously said gay rights were a “non-issue” in the country.
Some 28 of the 49 sub-Saharan nations criminalize homosexual relations. Gay people in countries like Sudan or northern Nigeria can even face the death penalty for their sexuality, although these punishments are rarely enforced.
Countries like Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles do not criminalize homosexuality while countries like Chad and Uganda have recently tried to strengthen laws against it.