Botswana ordered to register country's first gay group

GABORONE, Botswana (AFP) - A Botswana High Court Friday ordered the government to register and recognise the country's first gay and lesbian lobby group, in a case testing the country's strict anti-homosexuality laws.

A group of activists approached the court to rule on the matter after the Home Affairs ministry rejected an application to register the Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) .

In his verdict, judge Terrence Rannowane said "refusal to register LEGABIBO was not reasonably justifiable under the constitution".

"It is also not a crime to be a homosexual," declared the judge.

He said government's refusal to register the group had "violated the applicants' rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly" under the country's constitution.

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.

LEGABIBO's objective is to campaign for equal rights and decriminalisation of same sex relations.

Rannowane said lobbying for legislative reforms was not a crime.

LEGABIBO coordinator Caine Youngman hailed the court's decision.

"It has been a long and arduous journey towards recognition and we are relieved that the court has protected our rights."

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 recognises same-sex marriages.

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