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Death penalty in Kenya targets the poor, report says

 About 600 inmates are on death row in Kenya. [iStockphoto]

The death penalty in Kenya only targets the poor, uneducated, and vulnerable individuals, a study has revealed.

About 600 inmates are on death row, according to the report commissioned by Death Penalty Project (DPP) in partnership with Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).

Dubbed 'Living with a Death Sentence in Kenya: Prisoners' Experience of Crime, Punishment and Death Row', the report released on Tuesday shows that majority of those sentenced to death (56 per cent) were convicted of robbery with violence, while 44 per cent were convicted for murder.

"Kenya's death row is populated by those who were poorly educated and were in low-level precarious jobs with little financial security. Many had considerable responsibility for welfare of dependants at the time of the offence," said DPP executive director Parvais Jabbar.

The study was carried out in June last year by Prof Carolyn Hoyle and Lucrezia Rizzelli from the University of Oxford in United Kingdom.

While 120 countries around the world have abolished the death penalty, including 25 in Africa, Kenya is one of 22 countries that has not. Kenya is regarded as an abolitionist de facto state whereby the death penalty is still present in law and people are sentenced to death, but they are not executed. In 2017, the Supreme Court declared the mandatory death penalty for murder unconstitutional. No execution has been carried out for more than three decades.

Coup plotters Hezekiah Ochuka and Pancras Oteyo Okumu were the last individuals executed for their role in the failed attempt to overthrow President Daniel arap Moi in 1982.

The study was carried out in 12 prisons across the country. According to the report, the majority of people serving time for murder had just completed primary school, while more than one in 10 had no formal education.

"Fifteen per cent reported that they had been experiencing mental health problems, higher than the national average," the report stated. Only one in 10 people, according to the report, had a full-time job that was permanent.

According to the report, 79 per cent of participants were in the two lowest categories of social stratification and their average wage was below the Kenyan minimum.

Some 671 respondents were interviewed with majority of them being in prison while the rest had their sentences commuted. Almost a half (43 per cent) said that they had been relying on alcohol while a third had a history of alcohol or substance abuse.

The report reveals that during the pre-trial, 53 per cent were not given the right to communicate with a lawyer and 50 per cent had felt compelled to make a confession or to give evidence that could be used against them, while 23 per cent were denied medical attention. And during trial, 27 per cent were denied an interpreter, 24 per cent did not have legal assistance, while 43 per cent did not understand what was happening.

According to Ms Hoyle, the death penalty does not offer an effective deterrent against serious crimes. "Those on death row in Kenya were unware of the risk of punishment, and it, therefore, could not be said to have influenced them when they committed their offences. Such evidence, viewed through established frameworks on the theory of deterrence, concludes that arguments made around the punishment's efficacy in reducing serious crime in Kenya do not hold up to scrutiny."

KNCHR chair Roseline Odede said Kenya should follow other countries in Africa and world and abolish death penalty. "Death penalty is contrary to human rights. The right to life is a fundamental right enshrined in several human rights instruments and thus it's an international commitment to respect that right irrespective of circumstances. Death penalty is not a deterrent and research has indicated that it's not effective in fighting crime and thus its application does not make the society any safer."

She added: "Revenge is not justice, and revenge in form of death penalty only perpetuates violence and suffering and weakens the very concept of justice. It's irreversible, torture, discriminatory and its incompatible with rehabilitation."

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