KFS officers put in a spot for assaulting women in forest

Sharon Chebet. She claims she was beaten after she could not pay a Sh300 weekly fee to gather firewood. [Nikko Tanui, Standard]

At least six women from Lemotit village in Kipkelion East constituency are seeking justice after they were allegedly assaulted by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers stationed at Soget forest station.

Sharon Chebet, who suffered a broken left hand, alleges that the officers attacked them when they couldn't pay a weekly Sh300 fee supposedly collected by the officers to allow villagers gather firewood from the forest.

"On that day, we entered the forest without the money. Five officers known to us forced us to lie down before starting to descend on us with sticks, beating us mercilessly. A strike aimed at my head broke my hand as I blocked it to protect my skull," she said.

The incident occurred on August 14.

Chebet claims that even after reporting the incident at the Londiani Police Station on August 16, no action has been taken against the KFS officers who attacked them on that fateful day.

The 25-year-old mother of three said that since her arm was broken, she hasn't been able to cook and do other chores to fend for her family and now depends on neighbours to do the work for her.

Joan Langat claimed that they had been left without an option but to venture into the forest to collect firewood, which they sell for small amounts of money after they were left out of the Plantation Establishment Livelihood Improvement Scheme (Pelis), popularly known as the shamba system.

"The allocation of the forest for farming purposes is skewed towards local wealthy individuals. Lowly people like us who border the forest are not given consideration," she said.

Mercy Mutai claimed that her 15-year-old daughter, a student at Londiani Girls Secondary, was also a victim of the KFS officers' fury.

"She was badly bruised during the attack. She reopened school in great pain," she said.

The victims' lawyer, Ben Siele, issued a two-week notice for authorities to act, warning of legal action if they don't.

"The Forest Act (2005) allows communities living around a forest to benefit from the forest. We want the mentioned officers to be arrested and prosecuted immediately," he said.

Siele argued that even if the villagers had committed a crime, the KFS officers should have arrested them instead of resorting to the rule of the jungle.

Fred Mirambo, the KFS officer in charge of Soget forest station, said over the phone that he had initiated an investigation into the incident.

"After establishing the facts, we will know the way forward over the matter. I am still waiting to receive the officers' report over the victims' allegations," he said.