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Kenya Faces Criticism Over Nationals Detained in Uganda

  • Michael Onyiego

Al-Amin Kimathi, chairman of Kenya's Muslim Human Rights Forum, talks to supporters before his arrest at the Nairobi Law Court January 18, 2010 (file photo)

Al-Amin Kimathi, chairman of Kenya's Muslim Human Rights Forum, talks to supporters before his arrest at the Nairobi Law Court January 18, 2010 (file photo)

Pressure is mounting on the Kenyan government to seek the release of eight human rights activists being detained in Uganda in connection with the July terrorist attacks in Kampala.

In the past few days, a debate has arisen in the Kenyan government over the fate of prominent rights activist Al Amin Kimathi and several suspects facing charges of terrorism in Uganda. Kimathi has been held by the Ugandan government for the past eight months.

Late Wednesday, a heated discussion took place in Kenya’s parliament about the government’s responsibilities in the case of Kimathi. Parliament Member Martha Karua argued Ugandan authorities had no right to keep him.

"Up to today the hearing has not commenced. It is quite clear that the Ugandan authorities do not have any evidence," said Karua.

Kimathi led a legal team to Kampala to meet with several Kenyans held in connection with the July 11 terrorist attacks in Kampala. Twin blasts ripped through crowds watching the World Cup final, killing 79 and injuring more than 70. The attacks were claimed by the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab, which said they were retaliation for Ugandan peacekeeping forces helping the Somali government.

The Kenyan government employed extraordinary rendition to hand the suspects to the Ugandan authorities, a move that has been criticized by many, including Kenyan Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo.

On September 15, during an attempt to visit with the Kenyan suspects, Kimathi was arrested by Ugandan authorities and charged in connection with the blasts. Kimathi is now being held in a maximum security prison. He faces 79 counts of murder, 10 counts of attempted murder and three counts of terrorism.

Many members of Kenya’s parliament demanded to know why the government had not requested Kimathi’s release.

But Internal Security Minister and Acting Foreign Minister George Saitoti defended the actions of the Kenyan and Ugandan governments, and he urged the lawmakers not to sour relations between the two countries.

"Uganda is a neighboring country. We have worked with it. In terms of the trade, Mr. Speaker, we trade a great deal. It is a major market of this country," said Saitoti.

Some Parliament Members say they saw hypocrisy in the detention of Kimathi. Lawmaker Millie Odhiambo pointed to the government support extended to the Kenyans suspected by the International Criminal Court of organizing the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

"Just recently we have seen the government spending billions on six individuals who went to The Hague when you have several Kenyans just [nearby]," said Odhiambo. "You cannot provide legal counsel?"

This week, several prominent Kenyan activists were deported by Ugandan authorities during an attempt to reach Kimathi. The group, led by Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights Chairman Hassan Omar Hassan, arrived at Entebbe International Airport near Kampala early Wednesday. Several, including Hassan, were denied entry and deported back to Kenya without explanation.

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