Kenyan police said Friday that they had arrested a suspect in the killing of an LGBTQ rights campaigner whose body was discovered stuffed in a metal trunk, a grisly crime that has sparked national outrage.
Edwin Chiloba, a 25-year-old fashion designer and model, was found dead by the roadside earlier this week about 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, media reports said.
“We have a suspect in custody, and we are investigating his role in this murder,” said Peter Kimulwo, head of investigations at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations office in Eldoret.
“We are holding him as a prime suspect because there are leads pointing to him and others, but all these are subject to conclusive investigations,” he told reporters.
Kimulwo said the suspect was believed to have been a longtime friend of the victim, adding that police were also looking for people seen loading a metal container into a car at Chiloba’s home.
“He died a painful death,” an unidentified police officer based in Eldoret told the media, describing torture and adding that it appeared Chiloba was strangled.
The Kenya Human Rights Commission urged police “to conduct swift investigations and ensure the killers are apprehended and prosecuted.”
“It is truly worrisome that we continue to witness escalation in violence targeting LGBTQ+ Kenyans,” it said in a statement.
“Every day, the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons are being violated with little consequence for perpetrators.”
Members of the LGBTQ community often face harassment and physical attacks in the predominantly conservative Christian nation.
Homosexuality is taboo in Kenya and across much of Africa, and gays often face discrimination or persecution.
Attempts to overturn British colonial-era laws banning homosexuality in Kenya have proved unsuccessful, and gay sex remains a crime with penalties that include imprisonment of up to 14 years.
“Our sincere condolences to the family and friends of prominent Kenyan LGBTQI+ community member Edwin Chiloba,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Twitter.
“We call for full accountability for his death.”
The Kenya LGBTQ Feminist Forum in western Kenya, where Chiloba lived, said he had used “fashion to deconstruct gender and advocate for the rights of the marginalized group.”
“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,” the group’s programs director Becky Mududa said.
Chiloba’s death comes after another LGBTQ activist was found slain in April last year.