Thursday, 18 February 2010

Updates on continuing anti-gay pogrom in Kenya

By Paul Canning
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirms pogrom fears, writes demanding action from Kenyan authorities
  • Six gay men released from police custody, told to leave the region
  • HRW say no arrests for homosexual offences made
  • Mob attacks spread to Mombasa from nearby towns
  • Local politicians closely involved in attempted pogrom
  • Public continue to identify gay men, police arrest them
  • More reports of media incitement role 
  • Anti-gay forces plan further attacks

The HRW letter, organised by Dipika Nath, researcher in the LGBT rights program, details the investigations carried out by local human rights bodies and backs the account of events first circulated by Kenyan gay groups in the immediate aftermath of the attempted pogrom.

HRW say that events began with in late January with unsubstantiated rumours about a "gay wedding" scheduled for February 12 (other reports say it was a joke made in a barbers). Radio stations discussed the rumour then on February 7 several imams and muftis (Islamic scholars) told their congregations during Friday prayers to be vigilant and to "expose" homosexuals in Mtwapa, a town north of Mombasa.

On February 11 Sheikh Ali Hussein of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya and Bishop Lawrence Chai of the National Council of Churches of Kenya held a news conference.

As reported by Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation and confirmed by other witnesses who spoke to HRW, they demanded an investigation of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) in Mtwapa, a government health center that provides HIV/AIDS services. They criticized the government for "providing counselling services to these criminals" and demanded that the KEMRI office be shut down.

In a statement after the meeting, the religious leaders promised to "flush out gays", local activists told HRW.

The next day an armed mob of 200 to 300 people, which HRW say appeared planned rather than spontaneous, surrounded the KEMRI health center. HRW say that a KEMRI staff member was pointed out as homosexual because he wore a T-shirt promoting safer sex and arrested, the report from local gay groups say the T-shirt had a pink triangle on it (the symbol worn by gays in Nazi death camps).

The mob continued to pull two people from a home and beat senseless another man who was approaching the health center and was about to set him on fire when the police arrived and took him into custody as well. Others went to the homes of gays and threatened them.

Local activists told HRW that none of the men were charged and they have all since been released, and that the police were attempting to protect them from violence by taking them into custody. However HRW says that the men were asked to submit to forensic examinations to determine if they are homosexual. Five of them refused and the sixth consented and was examined, although no "evidence" of homosexuality is reported to have been found.

Human Rights Watch said:
Forensic medical examinations to "prove" homosexual conduct are archaic and discredited. If conducted without genuine consent, they may constitute torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.
The mob were addressed outside the police station where the gay men were being held by speakers including a religious leader saying all homosexuals should be driven out and another (a former local MP according to other reports) saying to not bother bringing homosexuals to the police but rather to take the law into its own hands.

A Dutch man, Jankees de Ridder, who was traveling through Mtwapa the next day, Saturday 13 Feb, reported that the mob were holding the Kenyan newspaper the Saturday Nation with their photograph on the front page.
Police in a pick-up could hardly prevent the mob from beating a man, lying in the vehicle. I was shocked. I was even more shocked as I had read about a bishop and a Imam in the Friday newspaper calling on youths to harass homosexuals.
GALCK's David Kuria says that reports coming in to them are that police have initiated an operation to identify and arrest suspected homosexuals. Local politicians are actively involved in the exercise of identifying people as are members of the public.
Most of the people have been arrested from their offices or as in the case of two of the men, while boarding public transport - each in a different location.
Kuria says that medical professionals were relocated from attending normal hospital operations to help the police with quick identification of the homosexuals through medical examinations. He says that it is assumed that many people will be arrested during the police swoops and the medical professionals will help in filtering those who will be taken to court and those to be released.

The BBC say that police spokesman Martha Mutegi told them that the gay men taken into custody had been advised to leave the area for their own safety and 'to avoid angering the local community'.

HRW say that attacks on gays have spread to Mombasa.

"Inaction is complicity, and silence can be lethal."
They say that none of the attackers have been arrested but that several people have gone into hiding; others are preparing to flee their homes at a moment's notice.

Gay Uganda reports that further demonstrations are planned after Friday prayers (Feb 19). HRW say that Sheikh Ali Hussein had announced this on the radio and that local activists fear that demonstrations may extend to mosques along the coast, including in Mombasa. Hussein told Islam Online:
We are ready to shed our bloods to protect the dignity of Mtwapa town and we want our people to rise up against the vice.

Human Rights Watch's Dipika Nath said:
The government is sitting silent while mobs try to kill human rights defenders and assault people they suspect are gay. Inaction is complicity, and silence can be lethal.

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. The disruption of lifesaving HIV/AIDS work could mean a public health catastrophe as well as a human rights disaster.
The attacks and hate-mongering and the government's failure to act have spread fear in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, Human Rights Watch said.

Meanwhile the BBC continues to carry a completely different account of events from those coming from human rights and gay groups.

Local reporter Odhiambo Joseph continues to claim that "five people [were] arrested for planning a "gay wedding"" and in its latest report now says that "the rallies were apparently sparked by US President Barack Obama's condemnation of planned anti-gay legislation in neighbouring Uganda."

He also claims that (my emphasis) "police began a crackdown on the gay community last week following anti-gay protests".

The reporting echoed that of Islam Online which claimed that:
Muslim and Christian residents of Mtwapa, a district in the outskirts of the port city of Mombassa, recently joined hands in disrupting a planned nuptial involving two local tribesmen on the ground of being completely an alien practice in their largely conservative community.
They quote Bishop Laurence Chai, of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, about the non-existent marriage:
We may be on the verge of being doomed had these criminals managed to conduct their evil exercise within our neighborhood.

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