Rights Lawyer, Client, Driver Missing in Kenya
July 1, Nairobi: Kenyan police should urgently locate a human rights lawyer, his client, and their driver who have been missing since June 23, 2016. There is credible evidence the men were, at some point, in the custody of Kenya’s Administration Police and may be victims of an enforced disappearance.
The lawyer, Willie Kimani, his client, Josphat Mwenda, and their taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri, were last seen returning from a traffic court hearing at Mavoko Law Courts, Machakos county, on June 23. Kenyan and international human rights organizations have stated that the three were abducted and that they may have been held at Syokimau Administration Police Camp.
“The three men have been missing for over a week,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.” The police inspector general should be ordering his officers to urgently find out where the men are and ensure their safety and well-being.”
Any police officers involved in the men’s disappearance should be held to account for what would be a very serious crime.
Kenyan lawyers held a protest on June 30 and petitioned the police inspector general for information regarding the men’s whereabouts.
Human Rights Watch understands that officers from the police unit known as the Flying Squad, along with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, are investigating. But after eight days, there is still no clarity as to the men’s whereabouts. Should police officers, or other government agents, be involved with or implicated in depriving the men of their liberty and concealing information about their whereabouts, their actions would constitute an enforced disappearance, a serious violation of human rights for which there is no justification.
Kimani, a lawyer working with the International Justice Mission (IJM), has been representing Mwenda in his legal problems stemming from an April 10, 2015 incident in which an Administration Police officer from Syokimau Administration Police Camp shot him during a traffic stop.
An IJM official, Wamaitha Kimani, told Human Rights Watch that Mwenda received medical treatment for his injuries but was then taken into custody at Mlolongo Police station, in Machakos county. Mwenda was charged with “being in possession of narcotic drugs,” “gambling in a public place,” and “resisting arrest.” IJM believes that the officers fabricated the charges in an attempt to justify the shooting.
“What surprised us is that four other officers who were not at the scene recorded statements to support the charges,” Wamaitha Kimani said. “That is why IJM decided to defend Mwenda.”
Mwenda later filed a complaint over the shooting with Kenya’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA), a civilian police accountability institution, against a senior Administration Police officer in Machakos county.
Police later charged Mwenda with six traffic offenses, including riding a motorcycle without a helmet, on December 13. On February 16, Wamaitha Kimani said, two men claiming to be officers from the police’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations arrested Mwenda again, alleging that he was a suspect in a violent robbery. Willie Kimani represented Mwenda and insisted on being present during any interrogations. Wamaitha Kimani told Human Rights Watch that these charges appeared to be an effort to intimidate Mwenda and compel him to withdraw his complaint against the police.
Willie Kimani had previously worked with Release Political Prisoners, a Kenyan pressure group now known as Rights Promotion and Protection Centre (RPP), Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU), and IPOA.
“Police should not hesitate to interrogate and arrest their own officers when there is cause,” said Namwaya. “This case stands as a clear threat to the legal profession and all those who push for police accountability in Kenya.”
The Oslo Times International News Network/HRW