(WB) The president of an LGBT rights group in Tonga was murdered on May 1.

Media reports indicate Tonga Leitis Association President Polikalepo Kefu was killed near their home in Lapaha, a village on the island of Tongatapu on which the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa is located. Deputy Tonga Police Commissioner Tevita Vailea on Monday in a statement said authorities have charged a 27-year-old man with murder.

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

The Tonga Leitis Association in a statement described Kefu as “a selfless humanitarian and a tireless advocate for the rights of those with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.” The group also announced Cruella Tuinukuafe has been named interim president.

“In these dark and troubling times, we are reminded of Poli’s light and positive energy, and we encouraged knowing that this is when we are most needed to continue our work,” said the Tonga Leitis Association.

Amini Fonua, an openly gay Olympic swimmer from Tonga, also mourned Kefu.

“Hearing the news of Poli Kefu’s passing has left us all shocked and deeply saddened,” Fonua told the Washington Blade on Tuesday in an email. “Poli was a beacon of light, whose smile and sense of humor touched so many lives. Poli’s work for equality and human rights is well documented through all his volunteer work and presidency at the Leitis Association. Poli was a fighter for all the voiceless LGBTQ people, not just in Tonga, but all throughout the Pacific.”

ILGA Oceania in a statement noted Kefu in February helped coordinate a virtual symposium it organized in Fiji.

“Poli was a humble gentle inspiring leader who displayed a proactive interaction with ILGA Oceania on its various projects and conferences,” said ILGA Oceania.

“In the spirit of activism and friendship, we will miss you Poli for your pro-active, strong activism, your commitment and dedication to LGBTI issues and movement throughout the kingdom of Tonga, the Pacific Islands and Oceania,” added the statement.

The Tonga Leitis Association was founded in 1992.

The organization specifically advocates on behalf of transgender and gender-variant Tongans and other members of the country’s LGBT community. The Tonga Leitis Association also provides health care and other services to people with HIV/AIDS.

Tonga is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Fonua during a 2017 interview with the Blade said anti-LGBT discrimination, homophobia and transphobia remain commonplace in his homeland.

“It is truly a devastating day when we learn that people in the Pacific are still being murdered for simply living in their truth,” said Fonua on Tuesday. “Poli’s death won’t be in vain, and we shall continue the fight for equality and equal protection under the law.”


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