SPECIAL NOTE: I'm traveling to Kenya later this summer to report on LGBT issues on an international media fellowship from the International Center for Journalists and the Ford Foundation. More in the weeks ahead.
Disturbing news from East Africa. Dozens of people were arrested on Sunday morning during a police raid on a popular gay bar in Nairobi, Kenya.
The early morning raid happened at Club Envy in downtown Nairobi. More than 60 people were arrested, reports the Nairobi-based news portal Ghafla. The state "security apparatus harass[ed] innocent homosexuals who were not even taking part in any buggery but rather enjoying their hard earned money," according to the report.
[T]he watchman informed Baba Ghafla that those arrest were patrons who were not being arrested over Mututho Laws but rather because of their sexual orientation. ... We managed to talk to the watchman who informed Baba Ghafla that those arrest were patrons who were not being arrested over Mututho Laws but rather because of their sexual orientation.
Baba Ghafla then spoke to Joji Baro to find out whether this is a normal occurrence for homosexuals and we are shocked to learn that state harassment is all part and parcel of what it means to be gay in Kenya. "The arrests at Envy had nothing to do with Mututho law but just trying to suppress the visibility of gays and lesbians. So finally someone just realized gays and lesbians have money and they know where to spend it... Just a remainder of the little rights we enjoy -we have a right to spend our money where and whenever we want to."
The "Mututho Laws"—named after MP John Mututho—restrict alcohol sales across Kenya. Conflicting reports on Facebook suggest that the club may have been in violation of local ordinances and/or did not have a permit for selling alcohol during those hours.
"As far as we know the police arrest of patrons at Club Envy this morning is allegedly on violation of the Mututho Law," according to the Facebook statuts of Deniz Nzioka, the Nairobi-based journalist and human rights activist. "Number of people arrested at Club Envy this morning not confirmed though estimates say 65 people were arrested. ... Those who have been released were able to process a cash bail of 2k for which they are expected to appear in court tomorrow. The charges are for drunk and disorderly behavior."
Several comments posted to Nzioka's Facebook suggested that at least 95 or more people were arrested.
The police raid and arrests at the gay bar are a far cry from developments last year when officers were actively working with Nairobi's LGBT community. Police arrested several men last year who were allegedly involved in a notorious scheme that targeted gay men for extortion, blackmail, robbery and rape.
Kenya's government is considered progressive on gay rights. Same-sex relations are illegal—penalties are between five and 14 years’ imprisonment—but arrests and prosecutions are rare. Same-sex acts are currently illegal in at least 38 of 54 African countries. Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for gays or same-sex activity. South Africa, Mozambique and Seychelles are the only African nations that protect LGBT rights.
Kenya was the first African nation to include men who have sex with men in their national HIV strategy. The recently-appointed Supreme Court Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga has said that "gay rights are human rights" and expressed a desire to overturn anti-gay legislation. As a result, Kenya has rapidly become a refuge for many LGBTs who have been persecuted in East African nations. See our report for EBONY: "Can Kenya Lead Africa Forward on Gay Rights?"
Some Background ...
Can Kenya Lead Africa on Gay Rights? [EBONY]
KENYA: Arrest in Blackmail Ring That Targets Gays
KENYA: Police Investigate Extortion of Gay Men
KENYA: Police Officers Target Gay Men in Extortion
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Kenya HRC Calls for Repealing Anti-Gay Laws
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Controversy in Kenya After Pro LGBT Nominees
Kenyan Prime Minister: "All Gays Should Be Arrested"
KENYA: Questions Surround Mandatory HIV Testing
AIDS 2010: Joel Nana on African Gay/Bi Men, HIV
WATCH: CNN Surveys Gay Rights in SA, Kenya, Cuba
Kenyan Gays Demand Protection After Brutal Assault