One day after work last month, Tom Otieno* went to a shopping centre in Nairobi to pick up groceries before heading home. He got a call from someone he had been chatting to for a week on Grindr, a social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people. The man had already tried ringing several times during the day while Otieno was with colleagues and was keen to meet.
Otieno, 29, mentioned where he was but said that he did not want to see the man. Then, as he was heading to his car, he got another call. As he answered it, someone approached him and said they were a police officer. Seconds later, two other officers joined him and surrounded Otieno.
“One of them had this envelope,” he says. “He was getting papers out of the envelope and looking at them and then at me. I saw it was a chat [from Grindr] and I saw my face on it. I knew I had been set up.”
The police asked him to get in their car to “help with an investigation”. Otieno refused and they accused him of having sex with a minor and started getting violent. “One tried to cuff me by force. Then he punched me on the chest and bent me over the car bonnet.”
Otieno agreed to go with them as long as they did not handcuff him. Once in the car, he realised they were taking a longer route to the station and started to panic.
[Police] take your phone, contacts, passwords. They see other gay men you’ve been talking to and trace them
Kelly Kigera, Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya
“I felt I was going to die. A few months ago, I heard a transgender person was found dead and word went round that it was the police,” he says.
Tom refused to hand over his phone to the police, even though they asked, because he knew he had done nothing wrong and they had not officially arrested him. He started to call friends, one of whom got in touch with a lawyer from the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC). She rang Otieno and said she would meet him at the police station.
Once the police knew a lawyer was involved, they took Otieno to the station but not before threatening him and demanding money to “make everything go away”.
Otieno’s experience on social media sites or dating apps of being “catfished” – as using a fake identity to lure someone online is known – by people intending to extort money is common among members of the LGBTQ+ community in Kenya.
With section 162 of the colonial-era …….