NAIROBI, Kenya — A gay activist and fashion designer was murdered and his body found stuffed inside a metal box in Kenya, the police said on Friday, in another episode that raised questions about dangers and discrimination faced by gay people across the East African nation.
Edwin Chiloba’s body was found in the box after it was dropped by the side of the road from a moving vehicle with no license plate in Uasin Gishu county in the country’s west. Peter Kimulwo, the county criminal investigations officer, told reporters that residents reported a foul smell coming from the box and that when officers opened it, they found Mr. Chiloba’s body wrapped in a woman’s dress.
Mr. Kimulwo said the police have arrested Jackton Odhiambo, a 24-year-old male freelance photographer, who was a longtime friend of Mr. Chiloba and was visiting him from the capital, Nairobi.
Mr. Kimulwo said the authorities were still trying to determine the exact circumstances of the killing as well as the motive behind it, adding, “We can’t speculate as of now.”
He said Mr. Chiloba was last seen early on Sunday morning, New Year’s Day, when he returned home with friends. Initial investigations found that neighbors “heard commotion and cries which subsided after a short while,” he said. The police suspect that was when Mr. Chiloba was killed, Mr. Kimulwo said.
On Tuesday, he added, the day the body was dumped by the roadside, neighbors saw a vehicle being driven into Mr. Chiloba’s compound and two men loading a metal box.
The police are looking for the vehicle that was used to transport Mr. Chiloba’s body and for two men who were believed to have helped load the box. They are also conducting a post-mortem examination to determine the cause of death.
News of Mr. Chiloba’s killing gripped Kenya on Friday, with activists, rights groups and many in the L.G.B.T.Q. community seeking the swift investigation and prosecution of those involved. The independent Kenya Human Rights Commission called his killing “reprehensible” and “deeply unjust” and said it was worried about the escalating violence targeting gay Kenyans.
“This is a frightening crime but it’s becoming common in Kenya — evidence of a growing epidemic of violence in the country,” the organization said in a statement.
While it is not illegal to identify as a homosexual in Kenya, a colonial-era law criminalizes consensual gay sex as “against the order of nature,” with those caught facing up to 14 years in prison. Arrests and prosecution under the laws are rare, but activists say they enable homophobia, and expose members of L.G.B.T.Q. communities to blackmail and extortion.
“Until the nation is safe for all who live in it, our silence and normalization of violence enables serious criminals,” Irungu Houghton, the executive director of Amnesty International Kenya, wrote on Twitter.
Born Edwin Kiprotich Kiptoo, Mr. Chiloba was a fashion designer and model who often spoke up about gay rights, and how inclusivity and diversity were at the heart of his brand.
“My movement is for everyone,” he wrote in an Instagram post in mid-December. “It’s about inclusion. And if I am going to fight what I have been marginalized for, I am going to fight for all marginalized people.”
James Gitaka contributed reporting from Eldoret, Kenya.