Kenyan court refuses to lift ban on acclaimed lesbian romance film

Wednesday, 29 April 2020 14:10 GMT

71st Cannes Film Festival - Photocall for the film "Rafiki" in competition for the category Un Certain Regard – Cannes, France, May 9, 2018. Director Wanuri Kahiu, cast members Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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Rafiki was banned in Kenya in 2018 on the grounds that it promotes homosexuality in a country where gay sex is a criminal offence

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, April 29 (Openly) - A Kenyan court on Wednesday refused to lift a ban on a locally-made acclaimed film portraying a lesbian romance, the film's producer said, adding that she would continue to fight for freedom of expression in the East African nation.

The film "Rafiki" - which means friend in Kiswahili - was banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) in April 2018 on the grounds that it promotes homosexuality in a country where gay sex is a criminal offence.

Rafiki's producer Wanuri Kahiu appealed against the ban, arguing it was against freedom of expression which is enshrined in Kenya's constitution. But the constitutional court stayed the ban, saying there was no violation of freedom of expression.

"We are disappointed of course. But I strongly believe in the constitution and we are not going to give up," Kahiu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"I think it is very important for us to define what freedom of expression means in Kenya as per our constitution. We are going to appeal. The ruling today is not a true reflection of what the constitution says."

Kahiu said she planned to take her petition to the court of appeal and the Supreme Court if necessary.

The film, which is a love story about two young women living in a Nairobi housing estate, won international acclaim - becoming the first Kenyan film to premiere at the Cannes film festival.

In September 2018, a court temporarily lifted the ban for seven days to allow the film to be screened in Kenya so it could qualify to compete at the Oscars under the Best Foreign Language Film category. The tickets sold out in Nairobi.

Homosexuality is taboo in the largely conservative Christian nation and persecution of sexual minorities is rife. British colonial-era laws punish gay sex with up to 14 years in jail.

As a result, tens of thousands of gay, bisexual and transgender people in Kenya face prejudice in getting jobs, renting housing, seeking medical care or accessing education, say LGBT+ rights campaigners.

KFCB's chief executive Ezekiel Mutua welcomed the ruling.

"We went against popular opinion and said no to homosexual content. We were labelled as homophobic and ostracized locally and internationally," he wrote on Twitter.

"But we stood for family values and what we believe to be in the best interest of Kenya. Family is the basic unit of society."

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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