Kenyan police sentenced for murder of rights lawyer


Posted on Friday, 3 February 2023 11:07
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Kenyan police carrying batons and teargas patrol looking for people out after curfew in the Kibera slum, or informal settlement, of Nairobi, Kenya Sunday, March 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

Three Kenyan police officers were Friday served sentences ranging from 24 years in jail to the death penalty for the brutal murder of a rights lawyer and two other people.

The bodies of lawyer Willie Kimani — who had criticised police abuse — as well as his client Josephat Mwenda and driver Joseph Muiruri were found wrapped in sacks and dumped in a river outside Nairobi in June 2016.

The torture and killing of the three men sparked furious protests in Kenya, where many people fear the police.

In July last year, a high court judge had found three officers, including a woman, as well as a police informer guilty of murder. A fourth policeman was acquitted.

Judge Jessie Lessit on Friday sentenced former policeman Fredrick Leliman to death. Two other police officers were sentenced to 30 and 24 years in prison.

The informer was given a 20-year term.

Abuse of office

The “court finds the murder most foul with its meticulous planning and execution,” Lessit said.

She singled out Leliman for acting “in flagrant abuse of his office” and masterminding the murder.

Kimani had been defending a motorbike taxi driver who accused Leliman of shooting him for no reason at a traffic stop in 2015.

When authorities found his body, Kimani’s wrists were bound with rope, three of his fingers had been chopped off and his eyes appeared to have been gouged out.

Cliff Ombeta, a lawyer for the three officers, said all would appeal the sentencing.

“This judgment cannot stand the test of any court of appeal judges,” he said.

Extra-judicial killings are rife in Kenya, and justice is rare with few examples of police being held to account.

Hit squads

Police have been accused of running hit squads targeting those — including activists and lawyers — investigating alleged rights abuses by officers.

In October, Kenya’s new President William Ruto disbanded a feared 20-year-old police unit accused of extrajudicial killings and vowed an overhaul of the security sector.

Prosecutors also announced in October they would charge police with crimes against humanity over a deadly crackdown on post-election protests in 2017, a landmark decision hailed by the UN’s rights chief Volker Turk.

The charges cover rape, murder and torture and include the case of a six-month-old baby girl whose death became a symbol of police brutality during the bloody election aftermath.

Kenya’s parliament established the International Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) in 2011 to provide civilian scrutiny of a powerful institution also reputed to be among the country’s most corrupt.

Only a handful of officers have been convicted as a result of IPOA investigations, even though the watchdog has examined more than 6,000 cases of alleged police misconduct, according to data covering the period from its inception to June 2020.

Activists largely defend IPOA’s record, saying police often frustrate inquiries by refusing to cooperate.

Although the death penalty is still handed out, Kenya has not carried out an execution after 1987.

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