By Zoe Alsop
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
A Kenyan Web site exposing pro-choice and LGBT activists to intimidation tactics claims to be homegrown. But it has the hallmarks of a notorious U.S. site for anti-choice extremists and is registered in Georgia.
NAIROBI, Kenya (WOMENSENEWS)--After answering the first anonymous call one night, Walter Odhiambo stopped picking up the phone.
"He said 'you are the one promoting abortion,'" said the deputy director in Kenya for Marie Stopes, the U.K.- based provider of international reproductive health services. "I was very frightened. I had seen stories about these groups in the U.S. and I knew how dangerous they were."
The calls began to appear after the launch of a website called ProjectSEE, which features pictures, addresses and contact details of supporters of abortion and gay rights in Kenya. Most are shown under the heading "not wanted." Odhiambo's picture is captioned "Baby-Killer."
A Kenyan who helped found ProjectSEE says the site is homegrown.
"ProjectSEE is 100 percent Kenyan," said Robert Wakhu, a part-time research assistant. "What we are trying to do is create awareness of some dangers lurking in our society."
Wakhu said he had MET Jonathan O'Toole, an American anti-abortion activist who has been arrested for photographing U.S. women as they entered clinics that offer abortion services.
Wakhu denied O'Toole was behind the project and described the American, whose name and phone number are listed among the contacts for ProjectSEE, as "one of our brothers."
In a message on the ProjectSEE site, anti-abortion activist Neal Horsley describes O'Toole as having married into a Christian Kenyan family connected to "a vital Christian community in Kenya willing to do what was necessary to thwart the homosexual agenda in Africa."
ProjectSEE's U.S. registration ties it to a Georgia address for Horsley, who in the late 1990s helped launch a notorious site called the Nuremberg Files, where the faces of abortion providers were presented inside FBI-style "wanted" posters, along with detailed personal information, and crossed out after they'd been killed. Critics called it a hit list.
After the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a Buffalo physician listed in the Nuremberg Files, Planned Parenthood brought a suit against the site's backers saying it constituted "force or threat of force." A federal appeals court found the site to be protected under the First Amendment.
Horsley continues to administer the site today, according to the site's registration. Photos of people that the site describes as linked to the "baby butchery business" can still be found on the site. Although the "wanted" phrasing is gone, they are echoed in the "unwanted" posters on ProjectSEE.
The sentiment expressed on the Kenyan site also sounds familiar. "We advocate that abortionists and women determined to murder babies be driven back into filthy back alleys like other murderers," reads a statement on the Kenyan site. It goes on to advocate that "homosexuals be likewise driven back into the closet, arrested and prosecuted for sodomy according to God's law."
ProjectSEE, an acronym for Project Stop Exporting Evil, claims the United States and Europe brought homosexuality and abortion to Africa.
In addition to O'Toole several other prominent anti-abortion activists are listed on the site as contacts for ProjectSEE.
Michael Bray, who was jailed for four years in the 1980s for taking part in a series of bombings and arson attacks on clinics near Washington, D.C., is there, along with Horsley. The site also offers a phone number and article by Paul Cameron, an unlicensed psychologist who heads the anti-gay Family Research Institute, based in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Debate on abortion is intense and widespread in Kenya now as religious leaders say they'll oppose a draft constitution if a provision is kept that allows abortion if a woman's life is in danger.
Passage of the draft constitution before the next national elections in 2012 is widely regarded as a critical to the country's effort to avoid the kind of bloodshed that followed the 2007 election. The draft calls for devolution of power that would prevent the kind of winner-take-all scenario that has led to ethnic strife in the past.
Even with these high political stakes, however, general debate about abortion is less heated than in the United States and certainly steers clear of death threats and violent attacks on abortion providers and supporters.
"Kenyans are not that extreme," Odhiambo said. "Rarely do you find them supporting someone's murder. To a certain extent Kenyans allow different opinions."
For gays and lesbians, though, the implications of exposure on the ProjectSEE Web site are more serious because sexual minorities are particularly vulnerable in East Africa.
Neighboring Uganda's parliament is considering a bill that calls for death sentences for "repeat offenders" of homosexuality and anyone who knows they are HIV-positive and continue to engage in homosexual activity, among others. Stiff sentences are proposed for doctors, family members and others who failed to report homosexuality.
This March in Kenya, mobs following calls from prominent Christian and Muslim leaders attacked an HIV-testing center run by an organization that promoted HIV awareness among LGBT people. Mobs also surrounded homes of men suspected of being gay or bisexual across the coastal city of Mombasa. Men targeted by the mobs were taken into protective custody.
When they learned of ProjectSEE in early April, Kenyan LGBT rights activists went to Kenya's Communications Commission, in charge of regulating Internet content here, only to learn that Kenya had no authority over the site since it was registered in the United States. The activists made a complaint at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.
The embassy's spokesman was not aware of complaint and couldn't give an immediate response.
"The sad thing is that nothing will happen until someone is killed," said David Kuria, manager of the Nairobi-based Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya.
A few weeks ago, Kuria learned that his picture had been posted on ProjectSEE beneath the label "Nairobi Shoga." Shoga is a derogatory term for a gay man in Swahili.
Threats arrived by phone and e-mail. Odd dents appeared on his car when he left it in the lot outside his house at night. Then a man came to Kuria's house and threatened him.
"The implication was that I would die," said Kuria, who has moved. "He consistently said that Jesus said the sinner, a stone has to be tied around his neck and then he has to be thrown into the sea."
One young Kenyan listed as a contact on the website told Women's eNews he felt duped by O'Toole.
Peter Bushnell, an unemployed school teacher who leads a Christian youth group, said O'Toole told him the Web site would be used to preach the gospel.
But then came O'Toole's request for Bushnell to mobilize his group to put up posters of the people shown on the site. He refused and since then O'Toole has stopped returning his phone calls.
Zoe Alsop is a freelance journalist based in Kenya.
Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya
Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review