A group of MSM in Mombasa this morning sustained injuries while escaping from an angry crowd of religious leaders and homophobes who barged into a meeting they were attending. The meeting had been organised by the Kenya Aids NGO Consortium (Kanco) and the invasion seems to have been arranged to flush out the MSM (men who have sex with men) who were in attendance.
Mombasa is Kenya’s second largest city after the capital Nairobi and lies on the Indian Ocean coast.
Kanco was carrying out a HIV/Aids Peer Education training that began at the Likoni Youth Empowerment Centre on Monday, February 20 and was set end today, Thursday, February 23. Peer Education is an approach to health promotion, in which community members are supported to promote health-enhancing change among their peers.
Kanco had invited the MSM community to participate in the training and 24 members of the community were present during the attack. Reports monitored by Behind the Mask in Nairobi say that residents barged in accusing the participants of “promoting homosexuality in the community.” Angry youth surrounded the meeting area and the participants had no choice but to flee for their lives.
One participant who sought anonymity spoke to BTM on phone about the incident saying, “The community attacked us while we were learning about prevention, care and treatment methods on HIV/Aids interventions. They accused us of promoting homosexuality. There were no security measures to protect us so everyone fled for their lives.” He added, “We climbed the roof, I cut my hand as I leapt out on the corrugated iron sheet. Someone broke a finger, some are bleeding. We all fled in different directions.”
It has been reported that when the attack seemed imminent, the venue attendants asked the participants to leave so as not to risk vandalism to their libraries and computer equipment. This left the MSM vulnerable to the wrath of the angry crowds.
A Kanco official who preferred to remain unnamed said in a telephone interview, “We have been carrying out this training in a space [which is] used to hold youth meetings. But I believe that because this is a small community, perhaps word got out [about who was attending] and that is what may have jeopardised this meeting.” The official added, “All the trainees are safe now and the training will continue at a different venue due to security reasons.”
Esther an activist from the Persons Marginalized and Aggrieved-Kenya (Pema-Kenya) organisation said, “We were not aware of this training, in fact I heard about it yesterday. Had we known, we would have advised Kanco not to have a meeting in Likoni. Before we could get the opportunity to advise those participating, we heard that they had been attacked.”
For LGBTI activists however, the most worrying issue currently is the fact that one of the participants was followed to his home and captured on camera by representatives of a number of media houses. Participants are very concerned about his safety and the fact that the press outed (disclosed his sexual orientation without his consent) him and gave away the location of his home.
Pema has now indicated that they have moved into emergency safety procedure mode in order to secure those who may be under further attack. Esther from Pema said, “The security of those under threat need to be dealt with swiftly, we will send those exposed to media to a safe house till further notice. I hope we can learn from this and ensure that we have a safe house near Mombasa so as to protect threatened activists.” She added, “The situation is grave and I will be discussing the way forward with Kanco to ensure the safety of all the MSM who participated.”