The violent murder of much loved and fierce LGBTQI Tongan activist, Polikalepo Kefu, on Saturday May 1, has shocked the local and international community. Local police have confirmed that a 27-year-old man has been charged in relation to the activist’s death.
Kefu was the president of transgender advocacy group, the Tongan Leitis Association, and was also widely known for his work with the Tongan Red Cross Society as the organisation’s communications officer. Kefu was also the current chairman on the Pacific Protection Gender Inclusion Network.
Kefu’s body was found on the beach near his home in Tongatapu, Tonga’s main island on Saturday morning.
It is with heavy hearts that I acknowledge the sudden and tragic loss of our brother Polikalepo Kefu over the weekend. Poli’s bravery and humanitarian work touched many lives in Tonga and throughout the Pacific diaspora. #thread
PC: Nuku'alofa Times pic.twitter.com/187lx7UzZN
— Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo (@KaraninaSumeo) May 4, 2021
Man Arrested For Murder
“The 27-year-old accused surrendered himself to police last Saturday night and is remanded in custody to appear at the magistrate’s court today … This is a tragic event, and our thoughts are with Mr Kefu’s family, friends and wider community.”
A homicide investigation is now underway; however, police have remained tight lipped as to if it is being investigated as a hate crime.
Homosexuality Illegal In Tonga
I’m so heartbroken to hear that Poli Kefu, a Tongan humanitarian and queer activist was murdered.
— vika mana says abolish AAPI (@endlessyarning) May 2, 2021
Kefu’s murder has evidently sent shockwaves through Tonga’s tight-knit LGBTQI community. “The hardest thing is to think that Tonga has gone into that kind of situation. We never thought that this kind of brutal murder would happen in Tonga,” said Joey Joleen Mataele, Executive Director of the Tonga Leitis Association.
“Not only was [Kefu] an activist, he was one person who would never be satisfied until the matter was solved. He was absolutely one in a million.” Mataele added.
Though Tongan culture traditionally supports transgender individuals in the form of fakafefine, homosexuality is still considered illegal. Though rarely enforced, it still carries a maximum prison term of 10 years. Tonga also does not recognize same-sex unions in any form.
A Tireless Advocate For Human Rights
2/3 Poli’s passing leaves a hole in our #RedCross #RedCrescent family. His bravery and compassion were inspiring. While we know he leaves a significant legacy within the global humanitarian movement, Poli will be deeply missed. pic.twitter.com/x3YwMHZ6Ib
— IFRC Asia Pacific (@IFRCAsiaPacific) May 3, 2021
“As Pacific Islanders in the LGBTIQA+ advocacy and community services sector, the work by Poli with the Tonga Leiti’s Association has been a source of inspiration for us (Pacific Islander Diaspora Community), more importantly, the impact of Poli to the members of our community who are Leiti and of other Pacific Indigenous gender and sexuality expressions.”
We are 16 Days away from the International Day against Homophobia Transphobia Biphobia @may17org & today we've witnessed the horrendous murder of a Human Rights Queer Activist in the Kingdom of Tonga, Poli Kefu. Ofa Lahi Atu Poli. #Justice4Poli 🏳️🌈✊🇹🇴 https://t.co/UAUKMRX8K6 pic.twitter.com/gjeUoji7GA
— Miki ميكي 💎 (@MikiCharlamagne) May 1, 2021
“This tragic incident, understandably, has brought many mixed emotions to those across the community and we encourage any of our Pacific Islander LGBTIQA+ community who are finding this a difficult time, to please reach out to each other, speak to your support system and family and if needed, contact us through our Social Media and we can refer you to the best support service.”
“We respectfully refrain from commenting on any details of this tragedy, but we do support that justice is to be served,” the statement concluded.
A candlelight vigil for Kefu will be held on Thursday at the Basilica’s conference room from 6pm-8pm Tonga time. The public can follow along on the Broadcomfm Broadcasting Facebook page.
If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.
For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14
For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.