Storm as decomposing bodies of missing trio retrieved from river

Residents view the body of Josphat Mwendwa being loaded in a police car after being found in Oldonyo Sabuk River. 1/7/2016 PHOTO BY WILLIS AWANDU/STANDARD
Missing city lawyer Willy Kimani and two other people were yesterday found brutally murdered and their bodies dumped in a river.

The discovery sucked Kenya into a diplomatic storm, with the American ambassador and eight other Western envoys publicly demanding a thorough investigation into the case.

It brought to a gruesome end a weeklong search for the human rights advocate, who was abducted with his client on his way from the hearing of a controversial case involving Administration policemen.

The bodies of 24-year-old Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda – a boda boda rider – and driver Joseph Muiruri were pulled out of Ol Donyo Sabuk River in Kilimambogo yesterday, badly decomposed and bearing torture wounds.

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Three Administration policemen are being held in connection with the murder. They are to be charged on Monday.

“They must have died very painfully, through suffocation. Their hands were tied with ropes,” said lawyer Duncan Kinuthia, a colleague of Kimani’s, after viewing the bodies at the City Mortuary.

Father-of-one Kimani went missing on June 23, together with boda boda man Mwenda and the driver of the car ferrying them from Mavoko law courts.

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A legal aid advocate, Kimani was defending Mwendwa against narcotics and traffic charges, which fellow lawyers described as trumped-up. They said the case had been brought by Administration policemen with whom the boda boda man had had a long-standing wrangle.

Kimani and the driver both worked for the American charity group International Justice Mission, which was giving Mwenda free legal assistance.

Yesterday, US ambassador Robert Godec and eight other envoys issued a statement denouncing the killing.

They said: “The individuals responsible for these crimes must face prosecution regardless of whether they are private citizens or members of the NPS. Holding police officers accountable for violations of human rights and other forms of misconduct is vital to end impunity in the police service and to establish safety and security for all Kenyans.”

It was signed by Mr Godec, Dutch Ambassador Frans Makken, Australia’s John Feakes, and Mr Nic Haley (Britain) together with the charge d’affaires of Norway, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

Apparently reacting to international media, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Joseph Boinett said: “I reject claims there are death squads in police. These are rogue officers, just like any society with rogue people. There is circumstantial evidence linking certain officers to the killing and they will be charged.”

Colleagues told reporters that Kimani and his two companions were suffocated with plastic bags, their hands and legs bound with sisal ropes. It happened hours after the three left Mavoko law courts, where Kimani was challenging charges of narcotics possession brought against Mwenda.

Gouged-out eyes

Their killers had beaten them up brutally. Driver Muiruri’s eyes had been gouged out. The bodies were stuffed in sacks and thrown into Ol Donyo Sabuk River in Kilimambogo, near Thika. During Thursday’s recovery, Mwenda’s body slipped from the hands of police and was washed downstream. It was found yesterday.

Three Administration Police officers attached to Syokimau AP camp were picked up by Flying Squad officers investigating the killings. Sources said that Kimani had scribbled his wife’s name and phone number in a note which he dropped near a ship container serving as a cell, in which they were being held by AP officers after being seized on their way from the courts.

A boda boda rider found the paper and handed it to the police, who took it to a document examiner at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. The team investigating the incident has recorded statements from at least 10 people, including court officials, family members of the missing people and boda boda riders. They have visited the court where the three were last seen alive before they went missing on June 23, 2016.

Police say the IJM vehicle that the three were driving in from the court was found abandoned in Kamirithu village in Tigoni last Saturday, a day after family members had complained that the three were missing.

The signal of a mobile phone belonging to Kimani was also traced to a nearby tea plantation, but the handset is yet to be recovered. Police say the phone went off on the same day. Driver Muiruri’s phone was traced to Busia border but went off on Sunday. The signal of Mwenda’s mobile phone was traced to Kawangware area before it also went off.

Mwenda’s problems appear to have been sparked by business rivalry between him and an Administration policeman, who also owned a boda bdoa operating in Syokimau area.

On April 10, 2015 Mwenda was stopped by two uniformed Administration police officers while riding as pillion passenger on a friend’s motorcycle. There was an altercation and the officer shot and wounded Mwenda.

Human rights investigators said the officers took Mwenda and his companion to hospital and later placed them under police custody.

According to the Government-affiliated Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Administration policemen, in an attempt to cover up the shooting, charged Mwenda with being in possession of narcotic drugs, gambling in a public place and resisting arrest.

“Curiously, four other officers who were not at the scene, recorded statements in support of these malicious and fabricated charges. Josephat sought legal assistance with IJM who immediately took on his case,” the organisation said in a statement.

Mwenda later lodged a complaint with the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and thereafter received persistent threats.

KNCHR said that on December 13, 2015 the officer who had shot Mwenda together with others picked him up from his home and took him to Mlolongo Police Station, where he was charged with six more counts, which he termed as fabricated.

They included riding a motorcycle without a helmet, without a reflective jacket, carrying excess passengers, carrying un-insured passengers, riding an un-insured motorcycle and riding a motorcycle without a valid licence.

According to KNCHR, it was claimed Mwenda had been riding his motorcycle illegally despite the fact that his arm was injured and he was still undergoing physiotherapy.

It was after the second arrest that IJM took up the case. “Throughout this time, Mwenda has been a victim of threats and intimidation, including on February 16, 2016 when he was picked by two men from court claiming to be from CID. The officers alleged they were investigating a robbery with violence case and that Josephat and others were suspects,” the commission said.

A lawyer from IJM had insisted on being present during Mwenda’s interrogation, where his identification documents were taken from him.

Police investigations have shown the three were abducted as they left the Mavoko court and detained at the Syokimau AP Camp for a period before being moved.

Kimani had dedicated his career to securing basic human rights and freedoms for fellow citizens. He had been an intern at Release Political Prisoners Now, the Rights Promotion and Protection Centre (RPP), Independent Medico Legal Unit.

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