Police in Mtwapa, just north of the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa, say they have arrested five men whom they accuse of being homosexuals.

District officer George Matandura said two of the men had been found with wedding rings, attempting to get married, in Kikambala beach resort.

The other three men were handed to the police by members of the public; two of them had reportedly been beaten.

Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya but arrests are extremely rare.

Crowds gathered outside the police station where the men were taken in protest at the presence of alleged homosexuals.

The wedding was reportedly due to take place at a private villa in the resort, but locals heard of the plans and alerted the police, who raided a house and arrested the men.

‘Repugnant’ behaviour

“We are grateful to the public for alerting the police. They should continue co-operating with the police to arrest more,” Mr Matundura said.

“It is an offence, an unnatural offence, and also their behaviour is repugnant to the morality of the people.”

“We shall use all means to curb this vice”  – Sheikh Ali Hussein, Council of Imams and Preachers

The district officer said the five, aged between 20 and 35, would “undergo a medical examination before we charge them with homosexuality,” the AFP news agency reported.

“We will move swiftly and close down bars which condone gays, lesbians, prostitution and drug abuse in their premises,” Mr Matundura added.

A member of a Kenyan gay rights organisation condemned the arrests and said it had appealed to the Human Rights Commission to step in.

But the marriage allegedly planned was condemned by Muslim and Christian clerics.

“We cannot allow these young boys to ruin their future through homosexuality,” Sheikh Ali Hussein of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya told AFP.

“We shall use all means to curb this vice.”

Bishop Lawrence Chai, of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, said: “This is immoral and we shall not allow it, especially here in Mtwapa.”

The five men are due to appear in court soon.

Media coverage

On Thursday, two other men abandoned their plans to get married at a seaside villa in the same area after local authorities complained.

The couple and their guests fled the coastal city when word spread that the police, government officers and members of the public were looking for them.

Apart from in South Africa, homosexual behaviour is illegal across Africa.

Four months ago a Kenyan gay couple married in London – an event which received wide media coverage inside Kenya.