Kenyan policemen get sentences for murder of human rights lawyer

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Three police officers and their civilian informant have been sentenced for the murder of Willie Kimani, his client and their driver [Monicah Mwangi/Reuters]

Kenyan police authorities have been accused of running hit squads targeting those, including activists and lawyers, investigating alleged rights abuses by officers.

A Kenyan court has handed long prison sentences to a former police officer, two serving ones and their civilian informant for the 2016 murder of human rights lawyer Willie Kimani.

The “court finds the murder most foul with its meticulous planning and execution,” the judge, Jessie Lessit, said on Friday.

Kimani, his client Josephat Mwendwa and their driver Joseph Muiruri were killed shortly after filing a complaint of police brutality.

Mwendwa, a motorbike taxi driver, accused lead defendant Frederick Leliman of shooting him for no reason at a traffic stop in 2015. At the time of his death, Kimani was working for International Justice Mission, a global legal rights group that helps investigate and document police killings and brutality.

Their bodies were later recovered from a river outside the capital Nairobi. The case caused outrage in Kenya, where police have faced frequent allegations of brutality and extrajudicial killings but are almost never charged.

Kimani’s body was found with wrists bound with rope. Three of his fingers had been chopped off and his eyes appeared to have been gouged out.

The judge singled out Leliman for acting “in flagrant abuse of his office” and masterminding the murder.

He was sentenced to death by the court, however, Kenya usually commuted death sentences to life in prison and has not carried out any executions since 1987.

The two serving police officers, Stephen Cheburet and Sylvia Wanjiku, and their civilian informant, Peter Ngugi, were given prison sentences ranging from 20 to 30 years.

Cliff Ombeta, a lawyer for the three officers, told AFP that all would appeal the sentencing. “This judgement cannot stand the test of any court of appeal judges,” he said.

In July last year, a high court judge had found three officers, including a woman, as well as a police informer guilty, of murder. A fourth policeman was acquitted.

The police have said they take action against any officer accused of brutality, while the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a body set up to probe cases of police brutality, investigates such cases and recommends them for prosecution.

However, police authorities have been accused of running hit squads targeting those, including activists and lawyers, investigating alleged rights abuses by officers.

In October, Kenya’s new President William Ruto disbanded a feared 20-year-old police unit accused of extrajudicial killings and pledged an overhaul of the security sector.

Prosecutors also announced in October they would charge police with crimes against humanity over a deadly crackdown on post-election protests in 2017, a landmark decision hailed by the UN’s rights chief Volker Turk.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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