Kenya’s high court refused to scrap laws criminalising homosexuality on Friday in a blow to the gay community.
Gay rights organisations had hoped Kenya would follow in the footsteps of countries like Angola, or those further afield like India, and end decades-old laws which criminalise gay sex.
But three years after they filed their petition, the high court ruled that the laws in question were not unconstitutional, leaning heavily on concerns about traditional culture and family values in Kenya.
“We find the impugned sections (of the penal code) are not unconstitutional. We hereby decline the relief sought and dismiss the consolidated petition,” said Roselyne Aburili, presiding over a three-judge bench.
Inside the packed courtroom, gay couples held hands and waved rainbow flags as the lengthy judgement was read out.
After the ruling, they embraced and wiped away tears, and others wrapped themselves in flags.
“We have to fight for our rights. This is who we are,” said Jordan Zeus, a gay Ugandan man who escaped persecution there to seek refuge in Kenya, urging activists to keep fighting.
In a remark prompting gasps, Aburili said there was “no conclusive scientific proof that LGBTQ people are born that way”.
Campaigners had asked the court to scrap two sections of the penal code that criminalise homosexuality.
One section states that anyone who has “carnal knowledge… against the order of nature” can be imprisoned for 14 years.
Another provides for a five-year jail term for “indecent practices between males”.
Petitioners argued these laws infringed on their privacy and dignity, fomented discrimination against homosexuals and prevented them from gaining access to healthcare and justice.
The court dismissed all of these arguments, saying the petitioners failed to provide sufficient evidence.
Aburili said that while rulings scrapping such laws around the world were “persuasive, they are not binding on this court”.
‘Step backward’ –
A coalition of gay rights groups issued a statement expressing their “great distress” at the ruling, saying it “justifies the stigma, discrimination, and violence meted against Kenyans” in the LGBT community.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement the decision was “a step backward in the progress Kenya has made toward equality in recent years.”
The judges leaned heavily on section 45 sub-article 2 of the constitution, which states that “every adult has the right to marry a person of the opposite sex.”
She said decriminalising sex between members of the same sex would “contradict the express provisions” of that part of the constitution.
Aburili said it did not matter that the petitioners were not seeking the right to same-sex marriage, as decriminalisation would lead to “same-sex persons living together as couples.”
United Nations rights chief, Michelle Bachelet urged LGBT activists and their allies to keep fighting for equality.
“Criminalizing acts targeting certain individuals based on who they are and whom they love is inherently discriminatory. It also sends a dangerous signal to broader society and encourages hostility and even violence against LGBT individuals,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Outside the court, a Christian group sang choir songs and held aloft banners declaring “God forbids it and we say no!” as dejected members of the LGBT community streamed past.
“We are not here to speak hate, but we are saying no. And even at the court of appeal, we will still be standing as the church of Jesus Christ saying no,” said Apostle Kathy Kageni, from the Sozo Church of God.
Friday’s verdict had been awaited by activists across Africa.
Twenty-eight out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have laws penalising same-sex relationships, according to Neela Ghoshal, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) specialist in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.
The death penalty is on the books, under Islamic sharia law, in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, although there have been no known executions in recent times. In southern Somalia, gay men are believed to have been put to death in territories ruled by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group.
Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have scrapped anti-gay laws in recent years.
On the other hand, Chad and Uganda have introduced or toughened legislation.
Ex-health minister arrested for embezzling Ebola funds in DR Congo
Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July, was detained while hiding in an apartment in Kinshasa
Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga has been arrested over allegations he embezzled public funds to tackle the Ebola epidemic, police said on Saturday.
Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July after being removed as head of the country’s Ebola response team, was detained while hiding in an apartment in the capital Kinshasa ahead of a bid to flee the country, officers said.
He is in custody due to “misdemeanors of the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ebola response,” police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.
Ilunga will be referred to prosecutors on Monday, he added.
It comes after Ilunga was questioned in August as part of an inquiry into the management of funds to fight the outbreak, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August 2018.
Ilunga, 59, had already been banned from leaving the country.
He stepped down after criticising plans by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicensed vaccine to fight the epidemic.
His lawyer told AFP in September that some payments had been made to local chiefs after the killing of a WHO doctor in April.
More than 200,000 people have been vaccinated during DR Congo’s tenth and most serious Ebola epidemic.
It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.
Telemedicine revolution saving lives in Ivory Coast
The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.
Every time Catherine Coulibaly’s 19-year-old son had to make a routine appointment with the cardiologist for his heart condition, she gritted her teeth as she silently counted the financial cost.
It wasn’t just the hospital fee — there was the transport, food and accommodation, too, all of it amounting to a hefty burden for an Ivorian family on a modest income.
But thanks to telemedicine – consultations that doctors conduct through the internet or by phone – this cost is now a fading memory.
Her son can book an appointment at a telemedicine facility in a nearby town in northern Ivory Coast.
There, he is attached to monitoring machines which send the data sent to Bouake University Hospital in the centre of the country, where it is scrutinised by a heart doctor.
The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.
Ivory Coast has become an African testbed for it, thanks to a project linking the Bouake hospital’s cardiac department with health centres in several northern towns, some of which are a four-hour drive away.
Telemedicine “caused a sigh of relief for the population of Bouake, Boundiali, Korhogo, everyone,” says Auguste Dosso, president of the “Little Heart” association, which helps families with cardiac health issues.
Some 45 percent of the Ivorian population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank’s latest estimate in 2017. And the minimum monthly wage — not always respected — is only around $100, or 90 euros.
Heart disease surging
The pioneer behind the scheme is cardiologist Florent Diby, who set up an association called Wake Up Africa.
In Ivory Coast, heart disease, diabetes and other “lifestyle” ailments are surging, Diby explained.
“Urbanisation is making people more sedentary, and there’s the rise in tobacco consumption, changes in diet, stress,” Diby said.
Three decades ago, only around one in eight of the Ivorian population had high blood pressure — now the figure is one in four, on a par with parts of Western Europe.
But in Ivory Coast — and across Africa — well-equipped cardiology units are rare.
“Ninety percent of heart attacks can be diagnosed by telemedicine, so for us cardiologists it’s a revolutionary technology,” said Diby.
The beauty of the telemedicine scheme is that neither the doctor nor the patient has to travel far.
The cardiac patient is hooked up to the electrocardiogram (ECG) and other diagnostic machines with the help of a technician in a local health centre, which is connected to a computer in Bouake’s University Hospital.
The cardiologist there can then see the results in real time, provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.
The five-year-old project has already linked 10 health centres to the seven cardiologists at Bouake, enabling 4,800 patients in other towns to receive consultations by telemedicine each year. The goal is to expand this to 20 sites, doubling the intake.
Expertise France, the French public agency for international technical assistance, subsidises up to 185,000 euros of the network, which pays for equipment such as computers, artificial intelligence software and internet connections.
Diby is now calling for telemedicine to be expanded in other medical fields such as neurology and psychiatry, not just in the Ivory Coast, but across West Africa too.
That opinion is shared by other experts. Sixty per cent of Africans live in rural areas, where shortages of doctors are usually acute.
But numerous hurdles need to be overcome, especially investment in computers and access to the internet, according to a 2013 analysis published by the US National Library of Medicine.
Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”
Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.
Hajar Raissouni writes for the Arabic-language daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities.
She was arrested as she left a clinic in Rabat where her lawyer Saad Sahli said she had been undergoing treatment for internal bleeding.
But the 28-year-old was examined by a medic and the prosecution said she showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.
In a statement, it insisted her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.
On Friday, Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to immediately release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.
Raissouni, who is religiously but not yet legally married, is also accused of having “sexual relations outside marriage” and faces a court hearing on Monday.
Her lawyers are lodging a complaint against police for forcing her to have a medical examination, her uncle Souleymane Raissouni told AFP.
Also arrested were her fiancee, a doctor, a nurse and a secretary.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Friday joined social media users in calling for her release.
“Instead of intimidating Hajar Raissouni by prosecuting her on unjust charges, the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director.
Ahmed Benchemsi, regional communications director at HRW, echoed Morayef’s call for all charges to be dropped.
The case had “a whiff of political manipulation since the defendant is a reporter from one of Morocco’s last newspapers,” he said.
Touafik Bouachrine, the owner of Raissouni’s newspaper, was sentenced in November to 12 years in prison on charges of rape and other offences.
He also denies all charges and his lawyers say his trial was politically motivated.
Raissouni’s arrest sparked heated debate online, and some 150 journalists signed a petition against “campaigns of defamation” against her.
Moroccan law punishes abortions with up to five years in prison, except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.
However, NGOs say up to 800 women have clandestine abortions every day in the North African country.
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