International News: Kenyan activist found dead; Tunisian activist freed; LGBT+ march in New Delhi

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Activist Edwin Chiloba found dead in Rift Valley

The body of Kenyan LGBTQ activist Edwin Chiloba was found in a metal trunk on the side of the road in the western Rift Valley on January 4, spurring international outrage. The murder of the 25-year-old Chiloba, who was also a designer and model, shocked the LGBTQ community and others throughout Kenya. 

Just days after Chiloba’s body was found, the first arrest was made when a photographer who was a longtime friend and former lover of the victim was taken into custody. On Jan. 7, three more men were taken into custody, and on Jan. 8, police made other arrests in the investigation of Chiloba’s murder.

“We have three new suspects in custody,” said Peter Kimulwo, head of investigations at the Criminal Investigation Branch Office in Eldoret on Jan. 8.

“I can confirm that we have discovered the vehicle that we believe was used to dispose of the body. It will be analyzed,” Kimulwo told reporters.

On Jan. 9, a Kenyan court allowed police to hold five suspects linked to the murder for 21 days. According to a police source speaking to Africa News and who requested anonymity, the victim was “strangled” after being “tortured.”

According to sources, an autopsy has been scheduled. 

Same-sex sexual relations are punishable by law, with penalties of up to 14 years in prison.

The murder has drawn strong international condemnation. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said on Jan. 07 that he was “shaken” and expressed his “deep sadness.” He expressed his “solidarity with LGBTQI+ activists around the world” and stressed “the urgent need to redouble our efforts to protect them.”

The African Union (AU) Commissioner for Human Rights, Solomon Ayele Dersso, also condemned the murder as “a result of hatred,” calling on Nairobi to conduct a “transparent, thorough and prompt investigation to bring those responsible to justice.”

Dersso also called on Kenya to take steps to ensure that “all vulnerable members of society, especially those perceived to be different from others, including because of their sexual or gender identity, are able to live their lives free from the threat of violent attacks.”

He said, “Continuing to see an escalation in violence targeting LGBTQ Kenyans is truly disturbing. Every day, the rights of LGBTQ people are violated with no real consequences for the perpetrators.” He urged the police “to conduct prompt investigations and ensure that the killers are apprehended and prosecuted.”

The LGBTQ Feminist Forum, in western Kenya where Chiloba lived, stressed that the designer had used “fashion to deconstruct gender and promote the rights of the marginalized community” and demanded that full light be shed on the murder and the hiding of the body.

Tunisian queer activist freed

A Tunisian appeals court has ruled that the prosecution of a queer activist in a landmark LGBTQ case is “null and void,” an NGO and a judicial spokesman said January 4.

The decision in the case known as “students of Kairouan,” refers only to Daniel, the only activist present at the hearing on December 19. The other five Tunisian defendants sought asylum abroad.

“It is a victory for Daniel and for us,” said the Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality (Damj) in a press statement.

The prosecution was dropped because of a procedural issue “because the police had opened the computer” of Daniel without judicial authorization, said a spokesman of the Court of Appeal of Kairouan, Riadh Ben Halima.

More than two dozen LGBT+ activists had attended the appeal trial, gathering in front of the court of Kairouan. Damj and the Tunisian League of Human Rights (LTDH) had called for a protest at the trial.

The protesters called for the “removal of the article of shame,” a reference to Article 230 of the Penal Code which punishes same-sex sexual acts with a penalty of up to three years in prison.

The case of Daniel and the other defendants dates back to 2015. Six students were arrested on charges of “sodomy” before being sentenced to three years in prison and banned from the Kairouan region for another three years.

In 2016 their sentence was reduced on appeal to 40 days in detention, but in 2018 the Court of Cassation reversed this verdict and sent the case back to appeal.

Article 230 dates back to 1913, under French colonization, but was retained in the legislation after independence in 1956. The law also requires an anal test, carried out by forensic doctors, which has been denounced as “degrading and inhumane” by several NGOs which are calling for its abolition.

“For the first time,” according to Damj, the prosecutor’s office requested on December 19 that the results of the anal tests be excluded from the prosecution case.

The article also outlaws setting up associations to defend LGBT+ rights.

In 2018, Tunisia increased the sentencing of homosexuals, with 127 jail terms imposed. In December 2021, Damj estimated some 150 people were being held in Tunisia’s prisons for homosexuality.

Damj member Seif Ayadi told France 24 news that the protest had been primarily to defend Daniel, but also to “demand justice for all the victims, even if it’s symbolic.”

France 24 reported that some signs at the protests said “Queer revolution against the patriarchy” and “My personal freedom is not the property of the Tunisian state.” 

Thousands march for LGBT+ rights in India

More than 2,000 members of the LGBT+ community and their supporters marched in New Delhi on Jan. 8. There had been no protests or marches by LGBTQ groups for three years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Delhi protest was for equal marriage rights in India.

Carrying rainbow flags and protest signs, the people marched to the Jantar Mantar area near India’s Parliament.

The government has not yet legalized same-sex marriage, despite the fact that the Supreme Court repealed a colonial-era law in 2018 that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison. LGBT+ rights advocates have been pressuring India’s Supreme Court to hear petitions on granting legal recognition to same-sex marriage.

Religious objections to same-sex marriage are significant, with Hindu nationalist leaders saying same-sex marriage is against India’s culture.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.