27 June 2006

Kenya: Writer: I Was Tortured in Cells

Nairobi — A freelance journalist broke down and wept yesterday as he narrated how, according to him, police arrested and tortured him in connection with the murder of two chiefs.

Mr Peter Makori Riang'a said the officers in Kisii District seized him on July 8, 2003, and beat him senseless before charging him with violent robbery.

The charge was later changed to murder, and he was held in custody for a year before the State dropped the case, he said.

Mr Riang'a, who has been undergoing treatment in the US after the alleged assault, was testifying before a Kenya National Commission on Human Rights tribunal set up to hear a complaint he has filed against the attorney-general, the Internal Security permanent secretary, the Kisii district commissioner and local senior police officers.

The tribunal is headed by the commission vice-chairperson, Ms Violet Mavisi, and comprises two other commissioners, Mr Tirop Kitur and Mr Lawrence Kurugu Mute.

It was the first to be constituted by KNCHR to hear a human rights abuse case.

The Government officials were notified of the complaints and asked to respond.

Mr Riang'a, who was led through his evidence by lawyer Kennedy Bosire, broke down shortly after he began testifying, forcing the tribunal to adjourn briefly.

When he resumed, journalists were asked to leave the chambers. And Mr Riang'a said the Rioma police stripped him and tortured him for hours, demanding to know his links with a local criminal gang known as kizunguzungu, which had been linked to the murder of a chief and an assistant chief at Suneka on the night of July 7-8, 2003.

The journalist said the officers took away his mobile phone and the camera he had used to take pictures of violent attacks in Kisii. They then took him to a forest at night and threatened to kill him if he did not give the information.

He said he was later moved to various police stations in and outside the district before being charged with robbery and later murder. But the charge was dropped with no witnesses called, the tribunal heard.

Defamation allegations

Mr Riang'a recalled that between 1995 and 2002, he was arrested by police on allegations that he had defamed senior politicians or published alarming reports, but the cases were dropped for lack of evidence.

He said he had spent millions of shillings on treatment in Kenya and the US, and that part of the expense was met by lobby group Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

The commission is to assess the claims, especially whether the arrest and charge were based on malice or justified. The testimony continues.

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