An English rugby team is fighting to save a gay teammate from being deported to Kenya, where they fear he will face persecution or imprisonment.
Kenneth Macharia, who has lived in the UK since 2009, has had his request for asylum rejected and is now being detained in an immigration center pending deportation, his club has said.
His fellow players at the Bristol Bisons, a gay and inclusive rugby club, have set up a petition and launched a social media campaign in an attempt to force the Home Office to reverse the decision.
Homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment in Kenya.
“Ken’s story is yet another example of the Home Office ignoring the risks that LGBT people face in multiple countries around the world,” teammate Andrew Holmes wrote in a petition to UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid that is close to reaching 5,000 signatories.
“Deporting a good, hard-working, gay man to a country where homophobic violence and imprisonment is rife is immoral and unjust, and should be stopped,” the petition says.
Kenyan law prohibits “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which is punished by up to 14 years in prison. According to a government report, 595 cases of homosexuality were prosecuted between 2010 and 2014.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta told CNN earlier this year that the subject of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights “is not of any major importance” to Kenya.
“Ken is deeply concerned about being deported to Kenya, where he would face persecution, and he wishes to stay in the UK to contribute to society,” the team’s petition says.
“Ken is a quiet, kind, and caring person and he is one of the most loved people at our rugby club. Our team would not be the same without his warm character,” it adds.
Bristol Bisons were founded in 2005. It claims to be the “only inclusive rugby team” in the southwest of England, welcoming players regardless of sexuality.
Macharia told BBC radio from the center where he is being held near Heathrow Airport that in addition to laws punishing homosexuality, “there is a lot of mob justice that takes place in Kenya because the police are generally inefficient and the general public have a habit of taking the law into their own hands.”
People suspected of being homosexuals are routinely harassed across East Africa, where homosexuality is illegal in almost every country.
The LGBT community in Tanzania, which borders Kenya to the south, is currently being victimized in an anti-gay crackdown, after Paul Makonda, the regional governor of Dar es Salaam, promised to set up a task force to capture people suspected of being gay.
The UK Home Office has frequently come under criticism from rights activists for deporting or rejecting asylum to LGBT people from countries where homosexuality is persecuted.
It said in a statement it has a “robust assurance mechanism” when considering such deportation cases.
It added: “This Government has a proud record of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and the UK remains a world leader in its approach to handling this type of asylum claim.”