A HIGH-level court in the African nation of Botswana has granted an LGBTI rights group the right to operate, despite existing anti-gay laws.

The Gaborone High Court last Friday granted Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) the right to official registration in the country.

The landmark victory allows the group to operate as a fully-fledged legal entity and to expand their fundraising and lobbying efforts.

Initially, Botswana’s Department of Labour and Home Affairs denied the group’s registration in March 2012 on the basis that the constitution prohibits homosexual practices.

It also stated that the organisation’s aims were “likely to be used for any unlawful purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with peace, welfare or good order in Botswana”.

An appeal was lodged but was rejected a few months later in October.

LEGABIBO’s objectives are to lobby for legislative reforms concerning homosexual relations and campaign for equal rights.

In Botswana, same-sex acts are criminalised under Section 164 of the Penal Code and is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.

Gaborone High Court judge Terrence Rannoane ruled that the government’s 2012 refusal was unconstitutional and that it “violated the applicants’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly”.

The judgement has been hailed by human rights advocates as a message of hope to LGBTI community members in a continent where state-sanctioned homophobic discrimination and violence is rife.

LEGABIBO coordinator Caine Youngman told the BBC: “I am happy with the judgement – it has sent a message to the government, the entire region of Africa.”

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