Anti-Gay Vigilantism Unleashed In Kenya, More Mob Arrests Feared
February 18th, 2010
This story broke out while I was away for a family funeral, and was unable to report on it. But it’s an important development reflecting widening anti-gay violence in East Africa. According to media reports, five Kenyan men were arrested last Friday for alledgedly planning a same-sex wedding. Those allegations sparked a massive protest and threats of mob violence. The five have been released by Mombasa police, saying that there has been no evidence to hold or prosecute them. But police also advised the men to leave the area for their own safety.
That is the situation according to media reports. But it now appears that perhaps one reason police released the five men is that there had been no same-sex wedding in the first place. BTB has been in contact with local LGBT advocates on the ground there, and they have a different take on what happened.
According to one Muslim 26-year-old gay man, he first heard the rumor that a gay wedding was to take place at a mosque in a sermon by a local imam. After the sermon, he went to a barber for a haircut who asked the man about the wedding. The man denied knowing anything about it, but the barber then accused the man of being one of the grooms. The barber then warned the man that February 12th would be the day in which “there was to be a hunt for the wedding people,” and warned him to take care of himself or he would be killed. The barber also warned him never to step inside his shop again.
Another account, written by LGBT advocate Denis Nzioka, has events turned the other way. According to Nzioka, the problem started when a well known gay man went into a barbershop in the Mtwapa area, and the barber noticed that the man’s haircut looked really nice and asking him where he was going. The man jokingly said he was going to get married. The barber took the joke seriously and alerted the imam at the local mosque, who then made the announcement. That sermon was then picked up by local media, according to Nzioka:
A local radio station, Kaya FM, then picked up the story and started a series of programs on gays. Kaya FM presents in Swahili and many of the Mijikenda languages – Digo etc (therefore has a real grassroots reach). The main focus of the discussion was on this impending wedding of two men in Mtwapa. Other local radio stations also picked up the story including Baraka FM, and Rahma FM and ultimately national radio stations including Kiss and Classic FM.
Whatever the sequence of events, we do know that on Thursday, February 11, religious leaders held an inflammatory news conference to condemn the suppsed wedding. According to the Daily Nation’s account of that day:
Speaking after a joint meeting on Thursday, religious leaders condemned the planned wedding. Furious clerics from the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) met at Masjid Answar Sunna Mosque, Mtwapa and cursed the couple and the organisers of the unconstitutional marriage.
The clerics claimed that a large number of youths were being recruited into gay clubs and warned that “God is about to punish the fastest growing town in Coast region”.
CIPK Kikambala region coordinator Sheikh Ali Hussein and Kilifi’s NCCK representative Bishop Lawrence Chai said they had given the government seven days to close down night clubs they accused of fuelling homosexuality in the town.
In fact, Nzioka reports that just a week earlier, a group of young men entered the Kalifornia Club, which is frequented by gay men and women, and took to the dance floor while singing, “gays have no joy and this time round they will have no joy or happiness for them.” Nzioka reports that this move was seen as a forewarning of things to come.
The clerics, during their Thursday news conference, also demanded the government shut down the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), an HIV/AIDS medical center which they accused of providing counselling services to the gay community.
On Friday, February 12, a mob gathered in front of KEMRI, and demanded that all shogas (the Swahili word for gays) to surrender. One man was pulled from the facility and arrested by police.
Meanwhile, other mobs were rampaging around town arresting other suspected gay men. One young man, a 23-year-old security guard, was beaten senseless and drenched in kerosene before police arrived. He was thrown into jail with no medical attention. Another man was taken from his home along with a friend who was visiting from abroad. That home was ransacked by a mob.
Later that morning the mob returned to KEMRI where police arrested another staff member, a transgender woman identified as Yvone. In all, five people were taken into police custody and were later released. No charges were filed.
At least one arrest was captured on tape by NTV Kenya:
The next day, the mobs continued to rampage, and another man was attacked and burned with cigarette butts. They were about to douse him with kerosene when police intervened. He was arrested and taken to Mtwapa police station. A mob tried to attack the station but was repulsed by tear gas. That man was reportedly an asthmatic who was denied medical treatment by police. Advocates tell BTB that activists from the Kenyan Human Rights commission were able to get him released and into a hospital for treatment.
It appears that overall at least six people were arrested and later released. None of them have been charged. They are all now in hiding. Local LGBT and human rights advocates are struggling to provide havens and medical treatment for those attacked despite meager financial resources.
Advocates tell BTB that gay people in Mombasa are in hiding, afraid to go out for their jobs or daily errands. Those who have fled to not expect to return home anytime soon. The BBC also reports that police continue to crack down on the gay community.
Worse, it appears that the trouble isn’t over. According to local LGBT advocates, there are rumors that anti-gay forces were to met on Wednesday, Feb. 17 to strategize on searching for more LGBT people, with another anti-gay demonstration set to take place on Friday, Feb 19.
Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, and is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. Last October, the director of Kenya’s National AIDS/STI Control Program announced that the country would undertake a census of the LGBT population. That move was greeted with widespread skepticism.