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26 former soldiers get life sentences for desertion

By Willis Oketch | February 15th 2015
Some of the Kenya Navy soldiers sentenced to life imprisonment for deserting duty. They have appealed for bond pending the hearing of their appeal on February 26. [PHOTO: GIDEON MAUNDU/ STANDARD]

Twenty-six navy soldiers, charged by three military tribunals in Mombasa with desertion, have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

The soldiers were charged with deserting the Kenya military to work for US security firms in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq in 2007 and 2008 before three military courts at the  Mtongwe naval base.

However, the soldiers, who have since declared that they would appeal their convictions on the grounds that they were charged under the wrong law, claim to had lawfully resigned.

They claim they were lured into the Mtongwe barracks and detained early last year.

Court martial documents produced at the Mombasa High Court on Friday last week indicate that the first to be sentenced were 20 soldiers.

The last four were sentenced to life last week, the Kenya Navy Legal officer Captain Alice Mate, said.

Mate pledged to deliver the last four files before February 26 when the soldiers will apply to be released on bond pending appeal.

“My Lords, I wish to confirm that I have all the 22 court martial proceedings and the remaining will be ready within the next 14 days, because we are only waiting for the signature of the Judge Advocate who presided over the case,” she said.

Only two of the 28 soldiers escaped the sentences after pleading guilty and were jailed for 18 months each, and dismissed from the armed forces. However, they have also appealed their conviction.

Four appellants

In their intended appeal, the soldiers seek to argue that Kenya was not at war when they allegedly deserted duty and that they were charged under the Kenya Defence Forces Act of 2010, despite leaving the military in 2007 and 2008.

The appeals will be heard by the High Court in April. Initially, the soldiers, who include Lieutenant Jeffery Pepela, were charged with desertion, which all, except one, denied.

On Friday, Justice Martin Muya said the application for bond would be heard on February 26. he said it would be unfair to delay this request until April.

“The application for bail pending appeal will be heard on February 26 as has been applied for by the defence,” said Justice  Muya.

Justice Muya made this order after rejecting an application by soldiers to summon Chief of Defence Forces General Julius Karangi over failure to produce documents relating to the court martial proceedings before the High Court as ordered on February 6.

Last week, defence lawyer Gikandi Ngibuini asked the judge to summon General Karangi after it emerged that the documents regarding the proceedings of four appellants, which the court had ordered to be supplied to the appellants, were not in court.

Ngibuini insisted that General Karangi, as the one in-charge of Kenya Defence Forces, be summoned after the Assistant Director of Public Prosecution, Alex Muteti, asked for the court martial to supply material relating to the proceedings.

During the hearing, Mate told the court that the military had delayed in supplying the court martial proceedings as had been ordered for because the Judge Advocate who presided over the case had not approved the documents.

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