The Court of Appeals of Botswana held a hearing on Tuesday over the government’s desire to overturn a court’s earlier decision to decriminalize homosexuality in the Southern African nation.

The High Court of Botswana made history in 2019 when it unanimously ruled that the criminalization of homosexuality was unconstitutional.

“A democratic society is one that embraces tolerance, diversity and open-mindedness,” Justice Michael Leburu said at the time. “Societal inclusion is central to ending poverty and fostering shared prosperity.”

Until then, homosexual acts–defined in the nation’s Penal Code as “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”–could be punished with up to 7 years in prison. The rule is a relic of colonization and was implemented when the country was under British rule.

LGBTQ activists and allies celebrated the ruling, hailing it as life changing for Botswana’s LGBTQ+ community.

“Before we were struggling. People have been hiding,” Anna Mmolai-Chalmers told CNN at the time. “This judgement can make a massive change for our lives.”

But now the government has appealed the ruling, arguing that only Parliament has the power to overturn the country’s anti-LGBTQ+ policy.

According to global LGBTQ+ rights group OutRight Action International, the court will announce its decision in the next 4 to 6 weeks.

In a statement to OutRight, trans ARTivist from Botswana Katlego K Kolanyane-Kesupile, expressed hope that the ruling will favor LGBTQ+ people.

“The Attorney General representative Sidney Pilane, appearing for the state, showed that the government has little ground to stand on and continuously made contradictory statements. Having proclaimed himself as ‘speaking for the government of Botswana and its views’ Pilane did little to show that the views of the government regarding LGBTQIA+ people are informed by anything other than pseudo-moralistic and archaic conceptualizations of who we are and what we want for our lives.”

“I trust that the bench, led by Justice Kirby, will see that justice reigns and that LGBTQIA+ people in Botswana will not have to live with the fear of having their rights rescinded at any time in the future.”

OutRight’s acting executive director, Maria Sjödin, also pointed out the country’s history of pro-LGBTQ+ rulings.

“The courts in Botswana have a record of trailblazing rulings which recognize the rights of LGBTIQ people, ruling in 2014 that the state has to register an LGBTIQ organization, in 2017 that legal gender recognition is a right, and in 2019 ruling to decriminalize same-sex relations.”

“I hope that the Court of Appeals will continue this trend and uphold decriminalization, which has already made a significant impact on the lives of LGBTIQ people in Botswana.”

filed under: high court of botswana, decriminalization of homosexuality, botswana appeals court, outright action international