Kenya: Puzzle of Two 'Handcuffed' Murang'a Men Who Drowned

Questions have arisen on whether two men, whose bodies were retrieved from Chania River in Murang'a County, had been handcuffed before they drowned as they allegedly ran away from chiefs who had raided a chang'aa distillery.

After eight days of a recovery mission that ended Saturday, the bodies of Nicholas Maithya and Asman John Kamau were retrieved from the swollen river at Gatiiguru.

A police incident report recorded at Ithanga Police Station on May 9 indicated that a patrol squad of 10 officers confronted the two at an illegal distillery along the river's banks and that as they tried to evade arrest, they jumped into the river with the hope of swimming to safety.

The officers promptly classified the two as missing persons, with their last location recorded as Rubiro along the river's stretch, which is notorious for hosting chang'aa distillers.

The report was not filed by the officers on patrol but by the young men's parents, Joseph Ndolo Mbatha and Beth Mumbua Muya.

Maithya's body was the first to be recovered with that of Kamau being retrieved later.

When police briefed the media about the incident, they said those who reported the incident "did not know the real name of Maithya and identified him by an alias Niko".

The officers gave Kamau's age as 25 but the parents said he was aged 18, while Maithya was aged 20.

Handcuffs?

The first body to be recovered had a circular incisive cut on the left wrist, which witnesses attributed to handcuffs.

When the second body was discovered at 8pm by locals after police abandoned the search, it was photographed by witnesses with cuffs dangling from the right hand.

The police were called back and arrived at around 10pm to collect the body, but it did not have the handcuffs when they took it away.

Photographs taken by crime scene investigators officers showed the body without handcuffs but locals and journalists said they had seen and photographed them.

Following the claims, locals expressed fears that the two might have been victims of extrajudicial killings. They demanded that the truth be unearthed, accusing the police of manipulating it.

It is said that about 10 national government administrators, who included chiefs and their assistants from Kakuzi/Mitubiri Ward, arrested the young men, handcuffed them and that while assaulting them, they fell into the swollen river and drowned.

Reason for arrests

But their parents and friends have all along insisted that the two were not at any chang'aa den and that they were fishing in the river when they were arrested and handcuffed. They added that Kamau was even heard asking the officers why they were being arrested.

"I saw the two handcuffed together. Kamau was complaining loudly that he had no idea why he was being arrested. I even asked one of the officers why they were arresting the two and was told to shut up and mind my own business. It was around 4pm," claimed Peter Mbaka, who insisted that he witnessed the happening from about 40 metres away.

"One of the officers hit Kamau on the back of his head and as he fell into the river. He dragged Maithya with him since they had been handcuffed together."

DCI boss John Kanda said: "The chiefs on this patrol were not accompanied by police officers as is the norm. They are not [supposed] to be armed ... this handcuffs issue is a matter of grave interest."

Mr Kanda wondered why a group of locals went back to the river to continue with the search in the cover of darkness and without police supervision.

"The interesting part is that those who went back found the body and photographed it. The images correctly show the handcuffs dangling from the right wrist. But by the time we were called back to collect the body, the group and the handcuffs were not there," Mr Kanda said.

It is not yet clear why the group of civilians, who were apparently out to safeguard the truth, disappeared without recording statements.

Big dispute

The recovery of the bodies marked the onset of a major dispute, with the chiefs denying that they ever handcuffed the two, and the DCI now being called upon to investigate how the images captured the body handcuffed yet the police took it to the mortuary without cuffs.

"We are faced with a situation whereby the chiefs admit they saw the boys jumping into the river to escape arrest. They say they had not cuffed them yet one of the boys had cuffs on his wrist," said Peter Kyatha, the spokesman of the two bereaved families.

Mr Kanda insisted that the recovery mission was civilian-driven and that his greatest interest was to have the bodies retrieved with as many witnesses possible.

Maithya's mother, Lucy Kanini, said she was devastated by his death and that her son was not a chang'aa dealer.

"I do not want to think now. I loved my son and I can swear, even by the kingdom of God, that he was never a chang'aa dealer or consumer. He was a fisherman," she said.

Ms Kanini said that since her son finished secondary school two years ago, he had been earning a living by hawking fish as he sought to raise money to enable him pursue a plant operations course in Thika town.

Kamau's mother, Beth Mumbua, said her son was a law-abiding citizen who finished primary education four years ago and that he fished to earn a living. He was preparing to enroll in a local polytechnic to pursue a course in masonry, she said.

Mr Kanda said a post-mortem will be open to all and the findings made public.

"It is then that we will be told by a competent authority whether the bodies bear the marks of handcuffs. The officers who reported that the two had jumped into the river are still available. Should there emerge any evidence that they lied ... the procedure of punishment is well spelt out. I assure that we are not interested in covering up crimes, not even those committed by our own," he said.

The DCI boss said he has since recorded statements from all the 10 chiefs and that more will be summoned to do so as investigations continue.

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