An LGBT activists attends a court hearing in the Milimani high Court in Nairobi, Feb. 20, 2019. Kenya's High Court, Friday, postponed a much-anticipated ruling on whether to scrap colonial-era laws that criminalize homosexuality.
An LGBT activists attends a court hearing in the Milimani high Court in Nairobi, Feb. 20, 2019. Kenya's High Court, Friday, postponed a much-anticipated ruling on whether to scrap colonial-era laws that criminalize homosexuality.

NAIROBI - Kenya’s high court has postponed a ruling on whether to repeal parts of the penal code that criminalize same-sex relations.  The ruling, initially scheduled for Friday, will now come in late May.

Justice Chacha Mwita addressed a courtroom packed with members of the LGBT community, their allies, and journalists. Gasps could be heard as the judge announced on behalf of his three-judge panel that they had challenges in writing the ruling.

"You may not like the news I have today. We are still working. One of our colleagues is still on leave. We ask you to give us up to May," he said.

Mwaita said challenges included reading through huge volumes of paper files and an inability to convene all the judges at the same time.

Members of the public fill the courtroom as the Hi
Members of the public fill the courtroom as the High Court in Kenya begins hearing arguments in a case challenging parts of the penal code seen as targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, at the High Court in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb.22, 2019.

The postponement of the judgment to May 24 was met with disappointment and suspicion.

Felix Kasanda, an LGBT activist who was in the courtroom Friday, believes the decision is not up to the judges alone.

“Gay issues are very sensitive in this country, and I think even with the judges they cannot make these decisions by themselves.  I think they need to consult from other government bodies and I think that’s why they are still pushing it.  They still need some time,” Kasanda said.

WATCH: Kenya High Court Ruling Gay Sex Awaited by LGBT Community

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Court hearings began in February 2018 when LGBT rights activists asked judges to repeal section 162 A and C and section 165 of the penal code.  Under the code, people convicted of same-sex relations can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.

Activists argue that the sections, which date back to 1930, infringe on LGBT rights to privacy and dignity and effectively deny them access to medical services or police protection.

Charles Kanjama, a lawyer representing the Kenya Christian Professionals, which argued against changes to the penal code, expressed understanding for the judges' decision.

LGBT activists and supporters attend a Kenyan cour
LGBT activists and supporters attend a Kenyan court ruling on whether to decriminalize same-sex relationships, in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 22, 2019.

“We understand that they work under a very severe work load.  This is just one of dozens or hundreds of cases they are handling,” Kanjama said.

If the judges change the penal code, Kenya would be the first country in East Africa to decriminalize homosexuality.

Angola did so earlier this year by excluding anti-sodomy laws from its constitution.  Judges in Botswana are set to hear a case in March that challenges anti-homosexuality laws in that country.