Two Kenyan human rights activists who have accused Kenya's police of widespread executions were shot and killed in Nairobi on Thursday evening. A U.N. official who has investigated police killings in Kenya, as well as Kenya's prime minister, have called for an independent probe into their deaths.
Oscar Kamau King'ara, director of the Oscar Foundation, and John Paul Oulu, the organization's communications officer, were shot while stopped in traffic in central Nairobi, not far from the president's residence.
The shooting came after a day of protests in Nairobi and other parts of central Kenya by members of the Mungiki, a criminal gang. King'ara's organization has accused the police of killing thousands of people in their crackdown on the gang. Other organizations put the number killed at around 500.
The U.N.'s special investigator on extrajudicial killings, Philip Alston, called for an independent probe of the activists' deaths by a foreign police force. Alston visited Kenya last month, calling for the dismissal of Kenya's police commissioner and attorney general for their role in allowing widespread police killing.
Hours before his death, government spokesman Alfred Mutua had accused the organization of being a "front" for the Mungiki and of organizing the protests. In an interview with VOA earlier in the day, King'ara admitted that the organization had organized protests by relatives of people who had been killed by the police, though according to most accounts, the protests, which included blocking traffic and lighting bonfires, were carried out by members of the gang itself.
King'ara had called for the implementation of Alston's recommendations.
"The Oscar Foundation has documented over 8,000 cases of both forced disappearances and executions," said King'ara. "The Alston report pointed out that indeed there is extrajudicial killings in Kenya and we are saying the full implementation of that report. "
The Mungiki has its roots as a quasi-religious gang, drawing members from the Kikuyu, Kenya's largest ethnic group. It has developed into an extortionist gang with a stake in Kenya's network of shared minibuses among other things. It was also responsible for a wave of grizzly killings, including beheadings in 2007, and for attacks during post-election unrest last year.
The episode appears likely to exacerbate tensions, already high, within Kenya's coalition government. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who shares power with President Mwai Kibaki, his rival in 2007 elections, criticized the government spokesman's comments, saying there was no evidence that King'ara had raised funds for the Mungiki. The prime minister appealed to the U.N., United States, and European Union to help investigate the murders.
The police have denied any role in the activists' death, saying they believe the killers were gangsters, or possibly Mungiki members acting on internal rivalries. Police Commissioner Hussein Ali said the killings are being investigated.
"Right now it's being treated as a murder case and a very serious murder case that we are taking seriously ourselves at this time," said Ali. "Of course there are many of us in this country who are very quick in apportioning blame."
The police say they are investigating three officers in the death of a university student in protests set off the activists' killing, which took place outside University of Nairobi housing.