BREAKING NEWS: Anti-Gay riots in Kenya
 

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posted Friday, February 19, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 08

BREAKING NEWS: Anti-Gay riots in Kenya


Human Rights Watch calls for action

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The international watchdog organization Human Rights Watch called on the government of Kenya to protect its LGBT citizens and HIV/AIDS agencies as anti-Gay mobs rioted in the cities of Mtwapa and Mombassa.

Kenyan police reportedly arrested at least five Gay men, but released them February 18 after several days in custody.

Meanwhile, anti-Gay religious leaders have threatened new disturbances.

"The government is sitting silent while mobs try to kill human rights defenders and assault people they suspect are Gay," said Dipika Nath, researcher in the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

"Inaction is complicity, and silence can be lethal."

On February 11, BBC News reported that local chiefs in the Kenyan port city of Mombassa had broken up a Gay wedding. Wedding participants reportedly escaped in three minibuses before police arrived.

The next day, Kenyan police announced they had arrested five Gay men - two of them "found with wedding rings" - in a raid in the nearby resort town of Kikambala.

"We are grateful to the public for alerting the police. They should continue co-operating with the police to arrest more," District Police spokesperson George Matundura told Reuters news service.

"It is an offence, an unnatural offence, and also their behavior is repugnant to the morality of the people."

Also on February 12, the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation reported that police had rescued three Gay men from "hundreds of angry youth baying for their blood."

While the Daily Nation reported that police intervened to save the three men from a mob, BBC and Reuters reported that all five had been arrested in connection with the planned wedding.

What is clear at this point is that senior Muslim and Christian religious authorities had united in opposition to the projected wedding and had incited violence against local LGBT residents.

"We cannot allow these young boys to ruin their future through homosexuality," Sheikh Ali Hussein of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya told AFP news service. "We shall use all means to curb this vice."

Bishop Lawrence Chai, member of the National Council of Churches of Kenya and leader of the organization Operation Gays Out, agreed.

"We thank God for saving this town from being turned into Sodom and Gomorra of this era, as we may be on the verge of being doomed had these criminals managed to conduct their evil exercise within our neighborhood," Chai said.

Kikambala is a popular resort near the city of Mombassa, with many nightclubs serving a diverse clientele. Chai said Operation Gays Out had given the government seven days to close down nightclubs catering to Gay men.

"Come night, come day, we shall not allow that marriage to be conducted in this town. We shall stand firm to flush out Gays who throng this town every weekend from all corners of this country,' Hussein and Chai said in a joint statement issued February 11.

According to Human Rights Watch, Hussein and Chai also demanded that the Kenyan government shut down the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), a government health center in Mtwapa that provides HIV/AIDS services.

The sequence of events reported by Human Rights Watch differs from the BBC report, and suggests that the supposed Gay wedding was used as a pretext to incite anti-Gay violence.

According to Human Rights Watch, an armed mob of 200 to 300 people surrounded the KEMRI building on February 12.

Kenyan police who were at the scene reportedly arrested two KEMRI staffers as they were being attacked by the mob.

A third man was also taken into custody after the mob beat him senseless and was preparing to burn him alive, Human Rights Watch said.

A man identified by Human Rights Watch as "'Faridi,' an organizer of the mob," reportedly broke into a private home and announced that the two men found in the home were Gay. Police also arrested them.

A large crowd then gathered outside the police station where the five were being held.

Local religious leaders addressed the mob, telling them Gays should be driven out of Mtwapa.

One speaker encouraged the mob not to bother bringing Gays to the police but to punish them themselves, witnesses said.

Smaller groups reportedly went to the homes of other people suspected of being Gay and threatened them. Several people are said to be in hiding while others are preparing to flee their homes at a moment's notice.

Local sources told Human Rights Watch that the mob attacks appeared planned rather than spontaneous. According to reports received by Human Rights Watch, none of the attackers have been arrested.

Sheikh Ali Hussein said in a radio address on February 17 that Muslims would march in Mtwapa on February 19 to protest against homosexuality. Local human rights activists fear the demonstration may extend to mosques along the coast, including in Mombassa.

"The police need to arrest the attackers and put a halt to what appears to be a coordinated nationwide attack on people perceived to be homosexual," Dipika Nath said.

"The disruption of lifesaving HIV/AIDS work could mean a public health catastrophe as well as a human rights disaster."

Section 162 of the Kenyan Penal Code punishes Gay sex with up to 14 years in prison.

"This law is a relic of Kenya's colonial past," Human Rights Watch stated. "British colonizers imposed laws to control social and sexual conduct, though some political and religious leaders now defend them as part of 'authentic' culture and tradition."



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