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Alleged Police Abuse in Kenya Escalates 'Beyond What Anyone Thought'

  • Jill Craig

An ominous twist to a story of alleged police abuse continued Friday in Nairobi as the bodies of two missing men were found in a river in central Kenya. They belong to a Kenyan human rights attorney and his taxi driver. A third body belonging to the lawyer's client was found later.

The three disappeared on June 23 following a court hearing in which Willie Kimani was defending his client against police charges after a traffic stop gone wrong.

Kenya's inspector general of police announced Friday that three police officers would be arrested in connection with the disappearances of the men.

"This is escalation beyond what anyone thought was possible," said Claire Wilkinson, Kenya's field office director for the International Justice Mission.

Kimani, 32, was a human rights attorney working for IJM, the organization helping Josephat Mwenda, a 27-year-old motorcycle taxi driver who was shot in the arm by police in April 2015. Police say the shooting was accidental. Mwenda was hospitalized, then arrested on multiple charges, including drug-related counts.

In December 2015, while his first case was underway with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, or IPOA, Mwenda was arrested on numerous traffic offenses, Wilkinson says. In March 2016, police again picked up Mwenda when he was leaving court. He was questioned regarding a robbery, then released.

A court hearing on road traffic charges was held June 23. IJM says that Kimani, Mwenda and Joseph Muiruri, their taxi driver, left court around 11:30 a.m. IJM lost contact with the trio shortly after noon. Around 4 or 4:30 p.m., a passer-by found a note outside an unofficial cell in an administrative police camp, asking whoever found it to call Mwenda's wife. “We are in danger,” the note said. Wilkinson says it was Kimani's handwriting.

The bodies of Kimani, Mwenda, and Muiruri were found Friday. Muiruri’s brother was at the morgue Friday morning to identify his brother’s body:

"This is the ninth day we have been searching for them and today we are here after being told there are bodies that have been recovered,” he said. “We are here to confirm if it's them, and we have confirmed it's them. … The only thing that is surprising us is the reason as to why these people had to be killed."

Wilkinson stressed her faith in the honesty and integrity of the current investigation process.

"We are confident that those who are responsible will be brought to justice, and we will not stop until that happens," she said.

Heads of the mission in Kenya from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia, among others, issued the following statement Friday evening:

"The individuals responsible for these crimes must face prosecution regardless of whether they are private citizens or members of the NPS. Holding police officers accountable for violations of human rights and other forms of misconduct is vital to end impunity in the police service and to establish safety and security for all Kenyans."

Calls to the police chief Friday were not returned.

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