Lawyer working for U.S. aid group killed in Kenya
Kenya | Human rights groups demand justice for police officers accused in shooting
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/06/16, 11:37 am
A U.S.-based legal aid nonprofit is demanding justice for one of its lawyers, his client, and their taxi driver, who were killed in Kenya. The suspects are police officials.
International Justice Mission and several other human rights groups in the country are petitioning Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to demand a fair trial amid accusations of ongoing police impunity.
Kenyan human rights lawyer Willie Kimani went to the Nairobi courthouse on June 23 to defend his client, Josephat Mwenda, who claimed a police officer shot and injured him. Instead of investigating Mwenda’s complaint, officers charged him with several offenses, including possessing drugs and resisting arrest. After the court hearing, Kimani and Mwenda went missing, along with their taxi driver, Jospeh Muiruri. Authorities found their bodies eight days later in a river northeast of Nairobi.
“IJM exists to protect the poor from violence, and Willie’s life was taken while courageously pursuing that mission,” the nonprofit said in a statement.
Police officials said they have arrested three officers in connection with the deaths.
IJM’s petition, which called for the president’s support in the prosecution and for the resignation of the inspector general of police, has garnered more than 31,000 signatures from around the world. Some 300 people on Monday marched through the streets of Kenya wearing t-shirts with the slogan, “Stop police execution,” while others carried placards asking for Interior Minister Jospeh Nkaissery to resign. Attorneys with the Law Society of Kenya said they would hold a weeklong strike to protest the killings.
“It has become necessary to draw the line on these extra-judicial killings at the hands of police deaths squads,” said Isaac Okero, the society’s president.
Mohammed Ali, an independent Kenyan investigative journalist, said Kenyans are five times more likely to be shot by a police officer than a criminal. The ongoing political tension in the country also has created an avenue for the police to use excessive force on protesters. A video of a police officer beating and kicking one man during a protest in May sparked international outrage. Some activists said the latest killings, if prosecuted fairly, could lead to lasting change.
“That a lawyer working for an international organization and his client could be abducted and disappeared in broad daylight only to be found dead, is a matter that cannot be taken lightly,” Kamau Ngugi, of Kenya’s National Coalition for Human Right Defenders, said in a joint statement with 33 other human rights organizations. “A transparent process of investigating and prosecuting those responsible is what is now needed to reassure shocked Kenyans of their safety and restore their faith in the national police.”
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.