Edwin Chiloba, a 25-year-old Kenyan LGBTQ+ activist, model, and fashion designer, was murdered over the New Year. Police have since arrested five suspects in connection with the killing, all of whom faced arraignment on murder charges Monday morning.
According to The New York Times, Chiloba was last seen on New Year’s Day, when he returned to his residence with a group of people. Neighbors reported “commotion and cries which subsided after a short while” and later saw an unmarked vehicle being loaded with a metal box. The box was dumped twenty-five miles away, and Chiloba’s body was discovered within, mutilated, and wrapped in a dress.
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Police are still conducting a post-mortem to determine the exact cause of death, but one unidentified officer commented, per The Guardian, “He died a painful death.” Five suspects were subsequently arrested for their suspected role in disposing of the body. One of them, freelance photographer Jackton Odhiambo, is believed to be a longtime friend of Chiloba.
On hearing the news of the arrests, the family issued a statement through their spokesperson, Chiloba’s cousin Gaudensia Chirchir: “We want the culprits or the murderers of my brother to be charged according to the Kenyan law.”
Police have stated they are considering a love triangle as the potential motive for the killing. But the details of how Chiloba’s body was treated and the current state of LGBTQ+ rights in Kenya has activists calling the murder a hate crime.
Kenya’s penal code criminalizes homosexual acts with a 14 year prison sentence—a relic of the British colonial era. While convictions are rare, according to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the law often serves as a means for blackmail and extortion, and it enables a generalized hostility towards queer citizens.
“Homophobic and hate-based rhetoric by leaders and media sensationalization of Edwin Chiloba’s murder only serves to incite violence against queer Kenyans,” said Amnesty International Kenya and several local groups in a joint statement.
“Online cyber-bullying using religion and culture raises the level of intolerance, hatred and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals. It is time for our society to come together and stand up for the rights and safety of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Kenya LGBTQ Feminist Forum commemorated Chiloba’s advocacy and creative work, saying he used “fashion to deconstruct gender and advocate for the rights of the marginalized group.” Program director Becky Mududa added, “We want to know as a community, as Kenyans, what happened to Edwin, why he was murdered and who dropped his body at the scene.”