Three police officers in Kenya have been found guilty of murdering three men, including human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, six years after their bodies were found in a river.
Judge Jessie Lessit found police officers Fredrick Leliman, Stephen Cheburet and Sylvia Wanjiku and police informant Peter Ngugi guilty of the June 23, 2016 murders of Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda and taxi driver Joseph Muiruri.
A fourth police officer, Leonard Mwangi, was acquitted. Those found guilty will be sentenced at a later date.
The triple murder triggered extraordinary outrage in Kenya, with hundreds of people protesting in the streets.
The Supreme Court Justice revealed in gruesome detail how Kimani, who worked for the International Justice Mission (IJM), was kidnapped as he left Mavoko Court in Nairobi and tortured and killed along with Mwenda and Muiruri. Their bodies were discovered a week later.
At the time, Kimani represented Mwenda, who had been shot and injured by police.
Outside the court, Hannah Kimani, Willie Kimani’s wife, said it had been a long and difficult six-year wait for justice. “I want to say that getting justice today is a source of comfort for us,” she said. “While it may not bring Willie Kimani back, it can bring comfort to our hearts.”
In an interview with the Guardian last year, Paul Kinuthia, Kimani’s father, said: “I have a wound in my heart. As long as this case is in court, the wound will not heal. Every year that goes by reminds me of how my son and two others were killed.”
Benson Shamala, Country Director of IJM Kenya said: “Out of five we convicted four which is a strong signal that the criminal justice system is working. It may not be perfect, but we can count on it.”
Elsy Sainna, executive director of the International Judicial Commission in Kenya, said she had mixed feelings about the ruling. “It is symptomatic of our criminal justice system that cases take too long to complete, particularly when it comes to enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions that touch on police and police accountability,” she said.
Police killings have long been an issue in Kenya. The Kenya Independent Police Inspectorate (Ipoa) has received and processed 20,979 complaints in the 11 years since its inception, but only 3,437 investigations have been completed. By the end of last year, there had been 17 convictions and 141 cases brought to trial.
Meanwhile, killings by police officers have increased. According to Missing Voices, a group of organizations investigating unlawful killings in Kenya, 72 people have been killed by police this year. 187 people were killed last year, up from 158 in 2020.
Sainna said this case would bring change, but added: “We must keep up advocacy efforts, both with the judiciary and with the police, so that no one can get away without being held accountable for their actions, especially when it is themselves.” are police officers.”
Irũngũ Houghton, Amnesty International’s Kenya director, said the case set an important precedent just ahead of the general election. “Police officers will think twice about using excessive force and taking the law into their own hands and deciding what to do with suspects or people they don’t like.”
Other pending cases involving police officers include that of Carilton Maina, a University of Leeds student who was shot dead in December 2018. An officer pleaded not guilty to the murder in April 2020. As of April 2022, the case had been adjourned at least three times and still had not gone to a full hearing.
Yassin Moyo died aged 13 after being shot dead while standing on his balcony watching police enforce the new Covid-19 curfew on March 30, 2020. On June 23, 2020, police officer Duncan Ndiema pled not guilty to the murder. The case has been adjourned several times and is yet to be heard.