Namibian activists use social media to expose illegal jurisdiction and homophobic legislature Global Voices

Protesters marched through the streets of Windhoek, demanding equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Picture by Equal to Namibia, used with permission.

In March 2021, twin girls to a Namibian gay couple were born via surrogacy in South Africa. Even though one of the fathers, Phillip Lühl, is a Namibian citizen, authorities have refused to issue the necessary travel documents to bring the twins home. Instead, they demanded Lühl suffer a DNA test to determine children’s parentage, sparking outrage within the Namibian LGBTQ+ community and beyond.

Namibian activists have garnered national and international attention by publicizing the case on social media, which has put significant pressure on the Namibian legal system and government, reaffirming that social media remains an important space to raise their voices. the voice of groups that might otherwise be silenced.

In a video message, Phillip Lühl made his case public. The video went viral and the daily The Namibian shared it on Twitter:

Lühl sued the ministry, arguing that the DNA test request contravenes both Namibian law and international law. the The Namibian constitution promises citizenship by descent to anyone whose parents are Namibian citizens. Furthermore, the first paragraph of the States of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” – thus the requirement to prove parenthood undermines the dignity of the couple. However, in the end, his request was denied.

Like The Namibian newspaper reported on April 19, Judge Thomas Masuku ruled that it would be a “judicial abuse” to force the authorities to issue travel documents to the two girls. This did not prevent the couple from claiming equal rights. “Now it was time to make some noise,” their lawyer Uno Katjipuka told Global Voices on Zoom. “The idea was to pressure the government to change its position on the girls’ arrival, which worked and didn’t work.

After the social media furor, the story of the Namibian twins stranded in South Africa has been covered by media in Namibia and abroad. “The case has really gone international,” Katjipuka said. “But even with all the noise, the court took the easy way out trying not to piss off the government in the first round.” After two months, tAuthorities eventually issued the emergency travel documents allowing the twins to enter Namibia. “I filed a second request, and the government did not oppose it. And I think it was because of the pressure and the international exposure,” says Katjipuka.

However, even if the family has been reunited, the citizenship by descent of the children remains undecided. Usually, children of Namibian citizens also automatically obtain Namibian citizenship, but this was not the case for the twins, nor for the eldest son in the family who was also born in South Africa through surrogacy.

A vector of social pressure: global social networks

For a short time, it seemed the family was winning their battle: on October 13, the High Court declared their first son a Namibian citizen. Not only did the media report the verdict, but also Equal Namibia, an activist group focusing on LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.

But even if the The Windhoek High Court said Lühl and his partner eldest Namibian citizen son, the Home Office then announced an appeal against the high court’s decision. According to the Ministry, “the High Court erred in law and in fact”, prompting an immediate backlash both online and offline.

Social media continues to be an important tool for LGBTQ+ advocacy in Namibia. This is not the first time Namibian activists have used social media as a tool to reach a wider audience and put pressure on their government. “Last year there was a critical moment that started on social media activism,” Namibian author and activist Ndiilokelwa Nthengwe claims in an interview with Global Voices on Zoom, referring to activists launching and spreading an online petition and social media campaign calling for legalization. abortion.

Similarly, later in 2020, demonstrators marched on streets from Windhoek demanding immediate political action against gender-based sexual violence, which in the Namibian context includes sexual assault, rape but also femicide. These protests were met with tear gas and rubber bullets, and 27 participants were detained. Faced with these incidents, Interior Minister Frans Kapofi apologized for police brutality and ministry of gender equality guest protesters at a consultative meeting.

However, the case of the twins has attracted even more international attention than these mobilizations. “We had activism before. Obviously, every civilization has. But this one was very specific,” explains Katjipuka. Many Twitter users declared their solidarity with the hashtag #bringpaulaandmayahome, and tweets about the case were shared in large numbers.

“Usually you only get pockets of society, but the population as a whole is ambivalent. Nobody really cares because it doesn’t affect them directly,” the lawyer says. But even though most Namibians were not directly affected by the twins, many people were in solidarity. “After I lost the first round, I don’t know how many people came to me and said I had to do better and I had to bring these twins home.”

“I think when we had court cases, it certainly brought more attention to people because it was a case that hadn’t been heard of before in the media,” said Nthengwe. But it wasn’t just the novelty of the case that caught people’s attention; the activists’ campaign was also set up in a different way, as Nthengwe explains. “We said, okay, let’s try from a different angle when we go into court cases. We started with online activism and continued to bring more content to people who were viewers. And I think that way we continued our momentum online.

Government’s ambiguous position

Eventually the twins were allowed to enter Namibia, but interest in the case did not wane even then. Whether they and their brother will be granted citizenship remains open.

And the conversation continues online. When the Home Office appealed the High Court’s decision and therefore the children’s right to Namibian citizenship, activists braced themselves for state-sanctioned homophobia on Twitter. As such, the Delgado-Lühl family remains a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for equal rights.

Meanwhile, lawyers like Katjipuka continue to challenge the Home Office over the decision to deny citizenship to a child of a same-sex couple born through surrogacy. “Lobbying the government worked,” she says. “But our government is very special. We have a president who is open-minded about equal rights, and we have a first lady who is very open-minded and very outspoken. But our interior minister doesn’t care, and the cabinet doesn’t care either.

Social media has also been a platform where leaders like First Lady Monica Geingos have frequently speak out against homophobia and sexism, beyond calling it real life. Geingos don’t back down criticize the current legislature in Namibia, for example the outdated sodomy law which prohibits men from having sex with men and which has not been enforced for more than 20 years. This allows activists to continue to challenge the status quo both legally and socially.

“It’s not so much about whether people are aware or not” according to Nthengwe. “People cling to their own ideology according to their values, according to their point of view and according to their community and how they grew up as people.” The challenge for Namibian activists and advocates therefore goes beyond using social media to create awareness. Instead, Nthengwe insists that activists must also challenge the justice system, ensuring that they do not “losing sight of our jurisdiction, our judicial system.

Thelma J. Longworth