Secret amnesty for poll suspects

August 10, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, August 10 – More than five months after guns stop blazing in the country and a new coalition government was set up to secure peace, the fate of 3,000 suspects arrested over the post poll riots is still unknown amid three controversial theories that beckon.

First of all, there are some politicians claiming that the police have been releasing many of the youth (who constitute most of the suspects), secretly.

Second, the government suggests that those arrested were charged and sent to remand prisons to await the conclusion of their cases.

The third – and perhaps most controversial of all – is one by the Police Spokesman Erick Kiraithe who has said that ‘the police were not holding any suspect’.

The Capital News Investigative Desk sought to clarify the matter from various politicians, leaders and the police on each of the theories and any other that may be in existence.

Some background first. The fate of the suspects became public indulgence when a debate emerged on whether or not the government should release suspects was sprayed on newspaper headlines in May and June.

The debate was aggravated by the fact that the damage measured 1,500 lives, billions of shillings in destruction of property, and more billions in loss of livelihood.

The thorny issue further threatened to tear apart the fragile ‘grand’ coalition, as government ministers and politicians openly differed on the way forward.

While some supported the idea of releasing the thousands arrested for violently disputing the presidential elections, many felt such an action could promote the culture of impunity among leaders and young people.

Members of Parliament (MPs) from the Rift Valley especially led by Cabinet Minister William Ruto, whose Eldoret North Constituency was among the worst affected by the violence, believed that those arrested had contributed to furthering democracy in the country.

The aggression that fell on various parts of the country was contained in February when former United Nations chief Kofi Annan successfully mediated a power sharing deal between President Mwai Kibaki and his then political rival Raila Odinga – now the Prime Minister.

The two leaders once clashed at a public function when Odinga said the government was considering offering the suspects amnesty, and immediately after, the President ruled out any such possibility.

Justice Minister Martha Karua has often sounded like a broken record stating repeatedly that ‘suspects of post election violence would not be pardoned’.

On his part, the Police Commissioner Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali, while admitting that some suspects were in custody, equally ruled out granting them amnesty.

“Let them (politicians) know that we are not holding youth. We are holding suspects of post election violence and they have to face the law,” he stated firmly.

And as the amnesty debate gained a faster back-and-forth momentum, Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua in one of his weekly press briefings announced that they were taking stock of the number of those already in custody, before they could announce the next course of action.
That ‘action’ has never been announced and the debate has eventually died down.
Capital News has since established that some of the suspects held at the height of the chaos have been released and are now walking free.

The discovery is corroborated by interviews with some Rift Valley MP’s who have even begun taking a tally of those released so far.

“A number of the youth that we had asked for have been released and are now back home. We are still taking stock of whether there are still more who are likely to be in police custody,” said Isaac Ruto of Chepalungu.

The suspects were arrested for offences ranging from arson attacks, malicious damage to property, and incitement, among others.

It is said that they did not appear in court to face any of the counts they were arrested for.

Then just why were they arrested and where were they being held prior to their release?

When we put that question to Police Spokesman Kiraithe, he changed tack and even denied that the said suspects were ever in custody.

“Our position remains that we really did not have any young men in our police cells and therefore, we cannot be releasing any young men we do not have,” he stated, adding that the matter was being dealt with by the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence (CIPEV).

Isaac Ruto made remarks that tied into Kiraithe’s version: “We do not know exactly whether there was a general release because when we ask them (the youth) most of them do not exactly know whether they are expected to go back or not. And they do not seem to be having any papers showing they have been released on bond or whichever arrangement.”

Though he could not state the exact number of those so far released, Ruto is categorical that the youth who have been set free are more than the ones missing.

“We will know the exact number in a week’s time, when we will have completed compiling data,” he said.

So were those released granted amnesty or were they just told to walk into freedom, to be re-arrested later?

In another twist, the Prime Minister while on an official visit to London categorically stated that no amnesty was to be granted to suspects of the poll violence.

It is to be remembered that this is the very same man who ignited the amnesty contest two months ago.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) recently said it was opposed to the government granting amnesty to the suspects of post poll fighting.

“The reason why we are against amnesty is because it can lead to a culture of impunity,” the ICJ asserted in a submission to the Justice Philip Waki-led CIPEV team.


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