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Kenyan transgender seek refuge amid reprisals after activist’s death

By Ayenat Mersie

NAIROBI, Jan 13 – For the first time in years, Arya Rams falls asleep and wakes up each day without a feeling of fear in her chest.

He lives in a room in a safe house deep in the Rift Valley in Kenya, supported by the Dutch non-governmental organization Trans Rescue.

Being transgender in Kenya can be dangerous. In 2021, a mob stoned a friend of hers to death on a beach near the city of Malindi, she said. A few months later, Arya said that she was chased by people wielding machetes.

Arya, 27, said safe house protections have been even more important over the past week as there has been a backlash against lesbian, gay and transgender people in Kenya following the death of LGBTQ rights activist Edwin Chiloba.

Chiloba’s body was found last week in a metal box on the side of a road near the city of Eldoret. According to a pathologist, he died of suffocation caused by socks being put in his mouth.

“People were visiting other gay social media saying, ‘Have you seen Chiloba? You’re next,'” Arya said.

Police this week named Chiloba’s alleged partner as the main suspect in his death. Reuters was unable to contact him for comment.

Outside of the investigation, much of the public comment on the case has been harsh and, at times, threatening.

“Let’s not waste time arguing about LGBTQ (…) it’s illegal (…) They should be jailed,” lawmaker Mohammed Ali wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

A rarely enforced colonial-era law punishes homosexual relations with 14 years in prison. Identifying as homosexual or transsexual is not a crime.

Amnesty International and other activist groups said last week that cases of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as abuse in the family, had increased in Kenya.

They stated that there is an “uncoordinated and often reluctant response to sexual and gender-based violence by state and non-state actors” and called on authorities to do more to investigate crimes and work with survivors.

(Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Editing in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)

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