, NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 30 – Kenya’s high court on Thursday threw out a case against four men over violence in which at least 33 people were burnt alive in a church during last year’s post-election chaos.
The ruling brought to a close the only case in which citizens have been charged with murder in connection with the violence that left around 1,500 people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
At least 33 civilians, including women and children, died when marauding militias set fire to the Kenya Assemblies of God church in Eldoret, where they were sheltering from the clashes.
The deaths took place on 1 January, 2008, and four suspects were charged two months later but Justice David Maraga said he had to drop the case, citing lack of evidence and shoddy police investigations.
"I find that the prosecution (has) failed to prove the burden of the case against the accused persons and thereby acquit them of all the charges and order that they be set free," he said.
"This was obviously a well planned and orchestrated attack and as such I was amazed to find no whiff of common intention on the part of the accused or the planning that went into the attack," he said.
"The events preceding the commission of this offence cannot have eluded the police as clouds for the gathering storm were there for all to see," he said, reading a 45-page ruling.
"I am not a politician but I am only a judge and a Kenyan who is just as outraged at the casual manner in which we are handling serious issues like insecurity in this country and by the attitude of our police force in the face of serious crime," Maraga added.
Eldoret is in the Rift Valley region, which saw the worst violence following the dispute that erupted when irregularities in the December 2007 presidential poll prompted accusations that then opposition leader Raila Odinga was robbed of victory by incumbent President Mwai Kibaki.
Three days after the election, on December 30, hundreds of civilians were driven from their homes by militias, according to evidence presented in court.
Some who had found refuge in the church were attacked by more than 1,000 men, who had painted their faces with chalk and were armed with bows and arrows, machetes, clubs and other weapons.
The mob lit up mattresses inside the church and then blocked the door to prevent the displaced from escaping the fire.