Namibian court declares laws banning gay sex unconstitutional

By Nyasha Nyaungwa

WINDHOEK (Reuters) - A high court in Namibia declared two colonial-era laws that criminalised same-sex acts between men unconstitutional on Friday, in a landmark win for the LGBTQ community in the southern African country.

The case was brought by Namibian activist Friedel Dausab with the support of British-based non-governmental organisation Human Dignity Trust.

Dausab told Reuters he was "just happy" after the court's decision. "It's a great day for Namibia," he said. "It won't be a crime to love anymore."

Consensual same-sex activity is prohibited in more than half of 54 African countries, according to ILGA, an international organisation supporting LGBTQ rights.

"This victory also brings much-needed and renewed energy to other decriminalisation efforts across Africa," said Téa Braun, chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust.

Rights campaigners say that, while convictions under the laws on "sodomy" and "unnatural sexual offences" were relatively rare in Namibia, they have perpetuated discrimination against the LGBTQ community and made gay men live in fear of arrest.

John Nakuta, a law professor at the University of Namibia, said the court's order can be appealed by the Namibian government within 21 days.

Namibia inherited the laws when it gained independence from South Africa in 1990, though same-sex acts between men were initially criminalised under colonial rule.

South Africa has since decriminalised same-sex sexual activity and is the only country on the African continent to allow LGBTQ couples to adopt children, marry and enter civil unions.

Last year, Uganda enacted one of the world's harshest anti-LGBTQ laws, which included the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", despite widespread condemnations from the West.

LGBTQ supporters gathered outside the court carrying banners that read, "Get the law out of my love life", and "Peace, Love, Unity", told Reuters they were overjoyed.

Omar van Reenen, co-founder of the Namibia Equal Rights Movement, welcomed the court's judgment and said the LGBTQ community in Namibia could finally feel like equal citizens.

"The message that the court sent today is that we have every right to belong and exist in this country and that the constitution protects us," said van Reenen.

(Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa in Windhoek; Additional reporting and writing by Bhargav Acharya; Editing by Alexander Winning and Jan Harvey)