Written by Denis Nzioka
Several blackmailing incidents all involving gay men have shown that several police officers stationed or operating from Central Police Station in Nairobi’s CBD are extorting money from gay men under the threat of arrests and prosecution.
Furthermore, previous reports of blackmail are showing that certain police officers around Nairobi are unlawfully extorting money from gay men in a wave that has shocked activists and left some unsure of how to proceed and deal with the rogue police officers.
Last week, an Identity Kenya contributor and who runs a movie business, Nelly* was arrested outside Kenya Cinema Plaza by a person who identified himself as a police officer from Central police station.
The officer claimed that Nelly was peddling and selling gay pornography and took him to a waiting van where they drove around the city.
‘I was at Kenya Cinema and one guy I was waiting for who said he was a client turned out to be a plainclothes officer. Before I could run 5 others surrounded me. They showed me their IDs, handcuffed me and told me to hide the cuffs inside the bag while it was still strapped on my shoulder. They then took me to a waiting car near Afya Center on Tom Mboya Street and told me they were taking me to Central police station,’ said Nelly.
The officers, on arresting him asked for KShs 100,000 in order to release him. ‘They asked me for KShs 100,000 and told me to call my friends to contribute,’ narrated Nelly to Identity Kenya.
- Police officers routinely targeting gays, MSM, bisexual and closeted married men
- Arrests are made on streets, lodgings and sometimes houses
- Victims asked to part with cash amount
- No charges drawn up against victims
- Activists fearful of engaging police officers on their rogue colleagues
- Blackmailers work with some officers to get money; make arrangements
Nelly says the officers called him disguising as a customer interested in the movies he sells only for him to be arrested.
‘I had KShs 2,300 on me which they took and released me and dropped me off at Moi Avenue,’ added Nelly. He was not booked or told on what charges he was being held.
Nelly said the officers told him they knew him from a website he uses to sell his merchandise and also social network, Facebook where he advertises his business.
The officers, it is revealed, work with several gay men who target others.
Anthony Oluoch, the former Legal and Human Rights Officer based at the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) 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.
This was the sad incident that befell Catholic priest, Father Jacob* from Mombasa who came to Nairobi for a weekend only to fall prey to the blackmailers and the rogue police officers.
Fr Jacob had booked himself in a hotel in Interfina House Tom Mboya Street and had called a friend he had met in a gay dating site. During their love making, men entered the room and identified themselves as police officers from Central police station. They too had IDs and handcuffed him and his partner.
‘They took me outside and claimed I was going to be arrested and booked in Central Police Station. I agreed to go since I did not want a scene. They handcuffed me and took me to a waiting car outside Hilton Hotel and drove to Central police station,’ narrated Fr Jacob to Identity Kenya.
At the police station, Fr Jacob was taken to a room and forced to wait. He was not booked or told the nature of his charges. However, one of his arresting offices asked him for 10,000 US dollars (KShs 850,000) in order to have him released without question.
‘They knew I was a priest so they knew I was an easy target. They told me to call parishioners and my Bishop to send me the money,’ said Fr Jacob amid tears.
Once they realized they could not get the money, the priest offered them the KShs 10,000 he had on him which they took. They later dropped him off at the hotel with a stern warning not to ‘continue with his behavior.
They took his phone number and details and according to Fr Jacob they may use these to get to him again and ask for money. He believes the person he was in the hotel with was part of the group since he was not charged either and disappeared soon after.
A Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) report ‘The Outlawed Amongst Us’ reports says 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.’
George*, who identifies as gay and living with HIV fell victim to the same police officers when in the company of his friends as they were leaving a pub late at night last Friday.
‘I and my friends were arrested along Tom Mboya and they tried to lock us in for selling drugs and loitering in the street. But then they changed story and said it was because we are homosexual,’ said George who was released after intervention from a gay sex worker activist.
‘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.
The issue of blackmail has remained a headache for local LGBT organizations that seem hand tied when dealing with such cases and more so since they involve the police.
According to activists, cases of police officers taking advantage of the law to harass gays and MSM and lesbians have been documented before.
GALCK had even issued a warning to persons of this blackmailing ring and asking affected person to report to them after cases became prominent and more daring.
They also say they are working on sensitizing police officers on the issue.
*Names changed to protect identity of victims.
Image credits | Brendan Bannon & In2EastAfrica
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