NAIROBI, KENYA - Traffic stopped Wednesday in parts of Nairobi as hundreds of Kenyan lawyers, wearing purple ribbons, marched to protest the alleged police killings of a colleague and two other men.
The march, which brought demonstrators to the Supreme Court and police inspector general's office, was the second in Nairobi this week against the death of lawyer Willie Kimani; his client, Josephat Mwenda; and their taxi driver, Joseph Muiruri.
The three men’s bodies were found in a river about 70 kilometers from Nairobi last week, several days after police had taken the men into custody.
“We want to raise awareness that this is a no-go area. You cannot attack lawyers,” said Charles Kanjama, chairman of the Nairobi branch of the Law Society of Kenya, the group that organized the march. “If you attack lawyers, you are attacking all the citizens. You are attacking the country. It means you are saying that no one is safe.”
The three victims disappeared following a court appearance June 23, in which Kimani was defending Mwenda against what they said were trumped-up police charges following an April 2015 traffic stop. Police apparently shot Mwenda in the arm by accident during the stop, and the incident escalated into a series of additional encounters with police.
After the court appearance, the attorney, his client and their driver were allegedly taken to a police administration compound. Their bodies were found just over a week later. The men had been beaten and strangled before they were killed, according to an autopsy.
Compound set ablaze
Outrage has been spreading in Nairobi as more information about the case comes to light. Human rights activists held a protest in Nairobi on Monday, and on Wednesday a mob set fire to the compound where the men are believed to have been taken.
“We are, in a manner of speaking, the high priests of constitutionalism and the rule of law, and basically the justice system,” said D.K. Githinji, a Nairobi-based attorney who participated in the lawyers’ march. “And we do not want to degenerate to a situation where you will need to be looking behind your shoulders before you can represent a client.”
Githinji’s comments were echoed by several of his colleagues at the protest.
“You cannot silence people because you have that power, because now the police have been given so much power that nobody will be seeking justice,” said attorney Faye Shirekuli.
Three police officers have so far been arrested in the case and another is in custody. Kenya’s attorney general and the inspector general of police have told the public that they will bring those responsible to justice.
Attempts to reach the police spokesman for additional comment were unsuccessful.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement Wednesday condemning the killing of the three men. It called on the Kenyan authorities to “strengthen efforts toward accountability" as well as "take urgent measures to prevent extrajudicial executions and police brutality and other serious violations.”
Human rights activists have decried alleged extrajudicial killings by Kenyan police for years. One group recorded nearly 300 police killings over 22 months.
Other activists say the real number is higher, as many victims’ families make only token efforts to pursue justice because of a lack of resources or fear of police, or both.