Blackmail and extortion of LGBTI people is a lucrative business for criminals. In Kenya, Behind the Mask’s Correspondent Melissa Wainaina heard from a lawyer dealing with the issue.
Monica Mbaru (pictured) is a sexual minority activist and lawyer and in the following interview speaks about the resurgence of blackmailers targeting members of the Kenyan LGBTI community. There have been three reported cases since September 2010. The latest incident occurred in August 2011. Most cases of the sort go unreported.
Please tell us a little about the extortion incidents that have been targeted towards the LGBTI community in Kenya.
There is a resurgence of the blackmail of members of the Kenyan LGBTI community. There is a “cartel” consisting of individuals in cahoots with [members of] the police [force] who entrap people then proceed to accuse and threaten to charge them with sodomy if they do not pay up. The loot is then shared between the police and the complainant. So far we know of three incidents which occurred in the past year that involved blackmail.
The latest occurred in August 2011 and involved a 40-year old man approaching *Chad, 33, a gay man, at his business establishment in Mlolongo on the outskirts of Nairobi.
The older man told Chad a sob story enabled him to spend the night at Chad’s house. In his story the man claimed an MPESA transaction (mobile money transfer) he was waiting for to complete his business deal with Chad and enable him get back to the city had fallen through.
Chad offered him a place to stay the night in the spirit of being a Good Samaritan considering the late hour. He did not suspect anything was afoot. He offered the stranger a mattress to sleep on and went off to sleep.
In the morning, he woke to find the stranger outside the house on his cell phone speaking animatedly. He presumed the phone call had something to do with the delayed funds and his guest’s money situation.
However, shortly the police arrived in a private car and the guest then pointed at Chad saying to the officers, “That’s the man. He’s the one who did it to me.”
The police arrested Chad, bundled him into the car and drove past three police stations before taking him to the Athi River Police Station (in a town just outside of southern Nairobi). There Chad learnt he was being accused of sodomising his guest and the police wanted a bribe of Sh50,000 (about US$500) to make the accusations “go away.”
The pestering and harassment made Chad feel that he had no choice in the matter and he reluctantly agreed to look for the money.
It was at this point he rang me to request that I witness an agreement for him that involved money. Once I realised that he was in a police station and the nature of the agreement, I came to his aid as his position was clearly illegal. When the police realised that Chad now had a lawyer they reduced the bribe to Sh5,000 (US$50), which we declined.
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