‘Beloved, selfless’ Tongan LGBT+ activist found murdered on beach after ‘very violent attack’

Polikalepo Kefu, president of the LGBT+ rights organisation Tonga Leitis Association.

A man has been arrested for the murder of beloved LGBT+ activist in Tonga, Polikalepo Kefu, who was found dead on the beach on Saturday (1 May).

Kefu, often referred to by his nickname “Poli”, was the president of the Tonga Leitis Association, the only LGBT+ rights organisation in Tonga, which supports and advocates for the community, as well as providing information on HIV prevention.

In a statement, Tonga police deputy commissioner Tevita Vailea said: “Police have charged a 27-year-old man from Fungamisi Vavaú, residing at Halaleva, with murder in relation to the death of 41-year-old Polikalepo Kefu of Lapaha.”

The suspect “surrendered himself to police” on the same day and has been remanded in custody until a court appearance on Monday (3 May).

Vailea added: “This is a tragic event, and our thoughts are with Mr Kefu’s family, friends and wider community.”

Cruella Tu’inukuafe, the vice president of the Tonga Leitis Association, released an official statement on behalf of the organisation: “Poli, as he has known to many of us, was a selfless humanitarian and a tireless advocate for the rights of those with diverse sexual orientatations, gender identities and gender expressions… It appears that Poli was a victim of a very violent attack.

“We vehemently hope that those responsible will be swiftly brought to justice.”

According to The Guardian, Kefu worked as an activist for decades, not only for LGBT+ rights as president of the Tonga Leitis Association, chairman on the Pacific Protection Gender Inclusion Network and communications officer for the Tonga Red Cross Society, but as an environmental activist.

Although reportedly not enforced, homosexuality remains illegal in Tonga, and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The Polynesian archipelago’s attitudes towards LGBT+ people are the product of British colonialism, and the islands actually have rich queer history, including the celebration of transgender people, or “fakaleiti”. 

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