Kenyan police found guilty of murdering three people, including a human rights lawyer | Global development

Three Kenyan police officers have been convicted of murdering three men, including human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, six years after their bodies were found in a river.

Judge Jessie Lessit found police officers Fredrick Leliman, Stephen Cheburet and Sylvia Wanjiku and police informer Peter Ngugi guilty of the murders of Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri on June 23, 2016.

A fourth policeman, Leonard Mwangi, was acquitted. Those found guilty will be sentenced at a later date.

The triple murder has sparked exceptional outrage in Kenya, with hundreds protesting in the streets.

The High Court judge revealed in gruesome detail how Kimani, who worked for the International Justice Mission (IJM), was abducted as he left Mavoko courthouse in Nairobi and tortured and killed along with Mwenda and Muiruri. Their bodies were discovered a week later.

From left to right: lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and driver Joseph Muiruri.
From left to right: lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and driver Joseph Muiruri. Photograph: Courtesy of IJM

At the time, Kimani was representing Mwenda, who had been shot and injured by police.

Outside court, Hannah Kimani, wife of Willie Kimani, said six years of waiting for justice had been long and difficult. “I would like to say that getting justice today is a source of comfort to our hearts,” she said. “Although it may not bring Willie Kimani back, it may comfort our hearts.”

In an interview with the Guardian last year, Paul Kinuthia, Kimani’s father, said: “I have a heart injury. As long as this case is in court, the wound will not heal. Each passing year reminds me of how my son and two others were killed.

Benson Shamala, Country Director of IJM Kenya, said, “Out of five, we have four convicted, which sends a strong message that the criminal justice system is working. It may not be perfect, but we can count on it.

Kenyan police officers Sylvia Wanjiku, Stephen Cheburet and Fredrick Leliman sit in the dock at the Milimani Courthouse in Nairobi, Kenya,
Kenyan police officers Sylvia Wanjiku, Stephen Cheburet and Fredrick Leliman sit in the dock at the Milimani Courthouse in Nairobi, Kenya, Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Elsy Sainna, executive director of Kenya’s International Commission of Jurists, said she had mixed feelings about the verdict. “It is symptomatic of our criminal justice system that cases take too long to conclude, especially those involving enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions that affect the police and police accountability,” she said. declared.

Police killings have long been a problem in Kenya. The Independent Police Oversight Authority of Kenya (Ipoa) has received and dealt with 20,979 complaints in the 11 years since its establishment, but only 3,437 investigations have been completed. By the end of last year, there had been 17 convictions and 141 cases filed in court.

Meanwhile, killings by police officers have increased. According to Missing Voices, a group of organizations investigating unlawful killings in Kenya, 72 people have been killed by police this year. Last year, 187 people were killed, compared to 158 in 2020.

Sainna said this case would bring change, but added: “We need to keep up advocacy efforts both with the judiciary and even with the police so that no one can walk away without being held accountable for their actions, especially when it comes to police.

Irũngũ Houghton, director of Amnesty International in Kenya, said the case set an important precedent just before the general election. “Police will think twice before using excessive force and taking the law into their own hands, and deciding what to do with suspects or people they don’t like.”

Other cases awaiting trial involving police officers include that of Carilton Maina, a University of Leeds student who was shot dead in December 2018. An officer pleaded not guilty to murder in April 2020. In April 2022, the case had been adjourned at least three times and still had not held a full hearing.

Yassin Moyo died aged 13 after being shot while standing on his balcony watching police enforce the new Covid-19 curfew on March 30, 2020. On June 23, 2020, the officer Duncan Ndiema has pleaded not guilty to her murder. The case has been adjourned several times and has yet to be heard.

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