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Court rejects Koigi sisters' Sh25m claim over torture

By Everlyne Kwamboka | May 18th 2020

The Court of Appeal has warned that fake compensation claims against the State on unsubstantiated allegations of torture committed in the 1990s will not succeed.

Three appellate judges said some petitioners have taken advantage of awards for political prisoners to file flimsy compensation claims.

“An avalanche of petitions have been filed by everyone who may have had a brush, no matter how slight, with the law, and others who may just want to exploit the situation and reap where they did not plant,” reads part of the judgement.

Justices William Ouko, Martha Koome and Daniel Musinga said this when dismissing an appeal lodged by former MP Koigi Wamwere’s sisters and a relative.

Margaret Wanjiru, Cecilia Wangu, Mary Njeri, Jacinta Wamwere and sister-in-law Mary Kuria had sued for injuries they allegedly suffered at the hands of police in a protest against the continued detention of Koigi and other political prisoners.

The five relatives had joined other women in a hunger strike at Uhuru Park's Freedom Corner in 1992 where they claimed to have been beaten up by officers attached to the General Service Unit and driven back to Nakuru.

The Court of Appeal upheld a High Court decision that dismissed their Sh25 million claim after they failed to prove that they were tortured by security agents.

Just like in the High Court decision delivered by Justice Isaac Lenaola in 2015, the appellate judges pointed out that the five women may well have been at Freedom Corner on March 3, 1992, and they may well have been brutalised by the police, but for the court to agree with their claim, they had to provide convincing evidence.

The women were, however, unable to substantiate the torture claims or offer proof that they sought medical treatment at the Nakuru Provincial Hospital or any other health facility.

Cash cow

“We do not see why genuine claims should fail, but those who see this as a cash cow, where it is imagined that one would walk in and walk out with money, should expect such outcomes as this,” reads part of the judgement delivered on May 8.

The court described the matter as a copy-and-paste work of those whose cases have been decided "that betrays truth and reality".

The appellants and other woman, who had the support of the late Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai, had camped at Uhuru Park for months after unsuccessfully petitioning the government to free their sons.

When the police were sent in to disperse them, the women stripped naked - a tactic that worked as the officers fled due to cultural beliefs that they would be cursed if they arrested the women in their state of nudity.

Twenty years later, the women filed a claim at the High Court on the grounds that their constitutional rights had been violated as they held a peaceful demonstration.

They claimed that they were "inhumanly and brutally battered with boots and batons, slaps, rubber whips, kicks and blows by more than 100 officers".

The officers are said to have bundled them into a police truck christened 'Black Maria' and taken them to various police stations in Nairobi before they were driven to Nakuru.

The women claimed they returned to the city five days later and began a hunger strike at the All Saints Cathedral Church compound where the police kept attacking them.

In their lawsuit, they sought a declaration that they were entitled to Sh5 million each for general, exemplary and moral damages.

In response, the Attorney General’s office dismissed the claims on the grounds that the women failed to identify the officers who tortured them.

The AG said the officers deployed to Uhuru Park had carried out their duties of dispersing an unruly crowd that had gathered at Freedom Corner.

Justice Lenaola dismissed the women's case, pointing out that the facts relied upon were "inconsistent and contradictory and could not be the basis of a favourable finding in their favour".

Aggrieved by the decision, the women then moved to Court of Appeal where they argued that Justice Lenaola had erred in his finding.

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