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Thursday, 26 January 2012

Kenya: Blackmail and extortion of gay men on the rise


(Image: Michael Wambua Soi)

By Denis Nzioka

When Patrick Muiru* met George* on a Facebook dating page, little did he know this was the start of his problems that will leave him naked, sexually assaulted, beaten and humiliated.

Patrick is a 26 year old closeted gay man who has fallen prey to blackmailers and extortionists targeting gay men. Patrick who lives in Ngumbo estate told Identity Magazine that he met George on a Facebook profile page called ‘Nairobi Gays Dating and Sex’ and after several exchanges of messages, they decided to meet.

‘George called me one evening which was a Friday and told me to meet him in Wendani estate in Nairobi. I asked him to come to my place but he refused. I agreed to go to Wendani the following Saturday in the morning.’

Patrick agreed to go to the meeting assuming the two were going to have sex. ‘It was clear; from his SMS and tone of voice he wanted sex. But now I guess he was just using that to get me,’ said Patrick. On the fateful day, Patrick arrived in Wendani and was picked by George who took him to what Patrick assumed was his house.

‘He was hot and tall and dark. He picked me from the stage and we took several corners before reaching a house. We entered and he offered me tea and mandazis. He looked nice.’ Little did Patrick know that George had set him up.
‘Immediately after tea, he started to caress and kiss me and I responded back with removing my clothes,’ Patrick told Identity Magazine. ‘However, he soon changed and he told me that he does not have sex with someone he had just met for the first time. I was disappointed. He said we can mutually masturbate and I agreed.’

Soon after, Patrick recalls George taking his phone and texting someone. Five minutes later, they heard a knock and George went to open. Two men entered the house and locked it. The two men started questioning the two and wondered why two men were in a room locked together. One of the men asked why (pointing at George) he had no shirt on. ‘George was shirtless after the act,’ Patrick added.
 The two men began to shout and slap Patrick and George and demanded to know what they were doing. George ‘owned’ up and said that they were gay and had masturbated together only forcing the men to rain blows to Patrick as they shouted derogatorily at him.

The men forced Patrick to undress and one of them took a condom and placed it on Patrick’s penis and told his colleague to take photos. Patrick by now was naked and shivering as the men took turns photographing his genitals, face and behind. They ransacked his pockets and took KShs 2,000 and a mobile phone.

They told him to dress and forced him out of the house and threatened to send the photos to the contacts on his phone if he did not part with KShs 100,000. Patrick said that he left Wendani a humiliated man and has been forced to part with over KShs 20,000 so far which he sends to the men via M-Pesa.

This case is a stark reminder of what closeted gay men have to go through from blackmailers who target them. Most of these extortionists are taking advantage of the fact that their victims are not open about their own sexuality. Most of their targets are either married men in heterosexual relationships or bachelors or those in high-voltage professions like priests, pastors or politicians.

Risks Of Dating, Social, Networking Sites

Cedric* is one such example. A married man with two children who lives in Umoja, Cedric parted with over KShs 40,000 to appease blackmailers who took photos of him while engaged in anal sex with another man from a hidden camera. Cedric told Identity Magazine by phone that he met a young lad called John* who lived in Pipeline, Embakasi estate and who set him up.

‘I went to his place and one thing led to another and we had sex. Little did I know that I was being videotaped. After sex, we heard a knock on the door and someone claiming to a cousin of John and three others came in,’ said Cedric. What Cedric did not know was that John, immediately after sex had requested to dispose of the used condom only for him to wrap it and hide it under the mattress. Cedric said he was shocked to learn that John had not disposed of it.

‘The so called ‘cousins’ started to shout at me and threatening me. John then took out the used condom from under the mattress and showed them. He said he will use this as evidence that I raped him and he said he will take me to the police.’
‘I was afraid of the police. I work in a local NGO in Industrial Area and something like this was dangerous to my family and career,’ said Cedric. ‘I had to give them the KShs 8,000 I had with me and my phone which they took and found my wife’s number and wrote it down and said they will send the video and photos to her.’

‘I had no choice,’ Cedric said. ‘It was either my family or career and so we went to the ATM close by and I gave them KShs 20,000 which was in my account. By now I was afraid and shaking.’

Blackmail, according to Wikipedia, is defined ‘as a crime involving threats to reveal substantially true or false information about a person to the public, a family member, or associates unless a demand is met. It may be defined as coercion involving threats of physical harm, threat of criminal prosecution, or threats for the purposes of taking the person's money or property.’

Identity Magazine talked to Anthony Oluoch, the Legal and Human Rights Officer based at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) who said that blackmail and extortion is the leading form of violation reported at his desk by Kenyan gay men most of whom are married. ‘It accounts for over 30% of cases we see in a year,’ said Oluoch.

Oluoch said that most blackmailers are either gays or straight people acting gay in order to get targets. One avenue they mostly use is social networks and sites. ‘One of the places they often visit is Facebook and dating sites like Gay Kenya, GayRomeo, GayDar and ManJam where people put their profiles for dates, sex or mutual friendship,’ Oluoch reported.
A casual visit to one of the sites - Gay Romeo - by Identity Magazine revealed that there are over 800 Kenyan profiles of gay men registered. Majority of them had photos, some graphic and other personal details like phone numbers, residence, place of work and places they like to frequent like bars and restaurants. Under a fake name, Identity Magazine was able to register and within minutes had received over three numbers from potential dates looking for, surprisingly, strictly sex. One even went further to say that a taxi can be provided for to transport us to his house.

‘Most people are free in giving their numbers to other people over the internet. This is dangerous,’ said Mona Kareithi, the Assistant Program Officer who works on LGBT in the larger equality and non-discrimination at the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).  
‘Not only are you putting your life in danger but of other persons like family members, work mates, friends and others,’ said Mona. ‘You have to be secure and private or else you become a potential candidate for extortion. Married men are more likely to be targeted since they are married and in the closet though even single gay men are targeted,’ she cautioned.

Rape, Sodomy And Sexual Violence

Some of the blackmailers not only extort money. Others use sexual violence and reports of rape are not uncommon.

Prince Ben* works as a chef at Nairobi’s Intercontinental Hotel. He lives in Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi and fell victim to blackmailers who sodomized and raped him. ‘I met this guy on Facebook from Kisii who told me where he lives and I agreed to meet him. We met at his friend’s place in Wanyee estate since he told me his friend had left him the house,’ Prince recounted.

‘We met at Nakumatt Prestige on Ngong road in October 2011 and after buying alcohol, we headed to Wanyee,’ Prince told Identity Magazine.

‘While we were there, some three men came to the house and closed us in and they threatened me. My date also turned on me and forced me to remove my clothes. I pleaded with them not to rape me but they overpowered me and sodomized me. They took turns,’ Prince said.  ‘I had nothing I could do and I could not go to hospital to be checked or the police to report it because being gay is illegal here in Kenya so I just went home and showered and kept quiet,’ Prince concluded.

‘Homosexuality remains criminalized in Kenya, and even though there are few prosecutions in the country on the sections of the penal code (162–165), that criminalize it, LGBTI people are routinely harassed by the police, held in remand houses for long without charges being preferred against them, and presented in court, on trumped-up charge. Closely related to this, is a cartel of corrupt police officials who routinely extort and blackmail LGBTI people with the threat of arrest and imprisonment if they do not give them bribes,’ Wikipedia cites.

The Kenya Penal Code, Section 300, outlaws extortion and states, ‘Any person who, with the intent to extort or gain anything from any person (a) accuses or threatens to accuse any person of committing any felony or misdemeanor, or of offering or making any solicitation or threat to any person as an inducement to commit or permit the commission of any felony or misdemeanor, or (b) threaten that any person shall be accused by any other person of any felony or misdemeanor, or of any such act; or (c) knowing the contents of the writing, causes any person to receive any writing containing any such accusation or threat as aforesaid, is guilty of a felony and the offender is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years’ and further provides that “if the accusation or threat of accusation is of an assault with intent to have carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature, or an unlawful and indecent assault upon a male person; the offender is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years; and in any other case the offender is liable to imprisonment for three years.”

Ideally, the provision offers protection to any person who may be threatened with extortion by anyone who has information on any crime that the person may have committed. It means that should someone have knowledge of another person having engaged or is engaging or conspiring to engage in a crime, they cannot use this information to try and get money from them and that the person who has committed the crime should not pay any money for the other person to remain silent. Any male person who engages in same sex activities, even consensual, despite it being illegal in Kenya, should not be threatened by any person who has this knowledge. This provision ensures that should any person try to obtain money or threaten with this information,  then that person is committing an offence and if found guilty , is liable to be imprisonment for three years.

A Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) report ‘The Outlawed Amongst Us’ reports that ‘educated professionals are often blackmailed by a cartel of colleagues at work, security agents, who work in cohort with other LGBT persons to who know the professional’s sexual orientation.’
The report also adds ‘There were reports of blackmail within the community especially where same sex partners broke up and one of them would blackmail the other to offer him/her a substantive amount of money or other favor in exchange for their silence on the other’s sexual orientation. One respondent reported that his sexual orientation was revealed on a popular FM station after he broke up with his partner.’

Bisexual men were more at risk of blackmail.

‘Those who were bisexuals reported that they were constantly blackmailed by their heterosexual partners to give up their children and asked to part with exorbitant maintenance for their children,’ the report cites. Blackmailing is not only limited to extorting money or gifts from victims. A more subtle but also effective form of blackmail is cutting off of support to victims in order to get them to be ‘straight’. Esther* is a lesbian in Kisumu whose parents used blackmail to change her sexual orientation. She reported that her parents refused to pay her school fees for college if she did not start stop her ‘immoral’ lifestyle.

Another incident reported in the KHRC reports says ‘I am quite effeminate and proud of myself. This landed me in trouble when I was in high school. I was expelled upon suspicion of being gay. My parents were enraged. My dad said no son of his was a woman and he sent me away from home saying that I was better off dead. He said I could only come back if I reformed. I wondered how I could prove I was reformed and what evil I was reforming from. I went to Nairobi to stay with my cousin then later ended up meeting gay men who took care of me financially in exchange for sexual favors. I was naïve and I used to have sex without a condom. I got infected with the HIV virus and I am now living positive and proudly gay. I hope another child won’t go through what I went through.’

The report adds, ‘These manipulative tactics have the effect of blackmailing the LGBTI persons to reform. These vulnerable situations are conducive for exploitation and child abuse or sex trafficking because most dependants are below 18 years at this stage. Criminal sanctions increase vulnerability of lesbians, gays and bisexuals persons to blackmail and extortion. The vulnerability is driven by the need to hide one’s sexuality from family, friends, work colleagues or the general public. Public stigmatization or internalized homophobia particularly forces one to remain secretive about their sexuality. Unfortunately, this deeply felt need for taciturn, even while affording reduced public censure of one’s sexuality creates a fault-line for blackmailing and extortion to thrive.’

‘GALCK have emergency hotline numbers to report cases of blackmail. In addition, we have lawyers willing to take up cases of blackmail against LGBT persons. The emergency hotline numbers are
0202347403 and 0700422956. Likewise, they can e-mail GALCK on info@galck.org. Cases of blackmail can be reported at local police stations where appropriate action will be taken,’ Oluoch told Identity Magazine.

It now seems victims are fighting back. A Facebook group called ‘Nairobi Gay Blackmailers and Thieves’ has attracted over 80 members. Its aim is ‘to expose all blackmailers, thieves; by doing this you shall end up making your friends safe.’ Members post incidents of blackmail as well as names and phone numbers of suspected blackmailers.

We were not able to establish if any person has been prosecuted so far.  

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