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Kenya: Series of death threats and intimidatory acts against human rights defenders fighting corruption
Human rights defenders struggling against high levels of corruption in the disability sector in Kenya have suffered a series of threats and intimidatory actions since the airing of an investigative documentary exposing this corruption on 28 and 29 July 2012, as well as in the weeks before its airing.
Members of the Kenya Society for the Mentally Handicapped (KSMH), which is leading the combined efforts of a number of organisations to combat corruption in the disability sector, have been particularly targeted.
In addition to the death threats received by a large number of human rights defenders working to defend the rights of disabled persons, a number of other incidents have also occurred in recent weeks giving further rise to fears for their safety. On 9 and 10 August 2012, according to a source considered reliable by KSMH, a plan to kill Ms Edah Maina, Chief Executive Officer of KSMH and a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was formulated by officials working in the disability sector.
On 28 July 2012, two men dressed in plain clothes tailed the car of Mr David Wanjama, Chairperson of the Disabled Voters of Kenya Alliance (DVA). Upon finding the human rights defender's brother driving the car, they instructed him to tell David Wanjama to present himself at the Industrial Area Police Station in connection with an alleged accident involving the car. The car was parked outside KSMH offices at the time given for the supposed accident. The men did not identify themselves and stated that they would return in search of David Wanjama.
On the same day, unidentified persons broke into Edah Maina's third floor apartment, disabled the alarm system and disconnected both the mains and the back-up power. Nobody was home at the time of the break-in.
These incidents took place on the day that Part I of the documentary “Inside Story: Masters of Deceit” was first aired on Kenyan television. The documentary reports that funds amounting to KShs 1.8 billion (approximately EUR 17.4 million) allocated to persons with disabilities in 2009, 2010 and 2011 were misappropriated by officials in the National Council of Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD) and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development, with the aid of the umbrella organisation United Disabled Persons of Kenya (UDPK) and its member organisations. The documentary reports on KSMH's efforts to expose this corruption and to ensure that the funds were used for their intended purpose.
Approximately one week prior to the airing of the documentary, Mr Prabhudnas Pattni, Secretary General of the Hindu Council of Africa and a trustee of KSMH, was in a minor car accident when travelling from Kisumu to Nairobi. The accident was caused by an individual or individuals, whose identity is unknown, removing the wheel nuts from one of the rear wheels of his vehicle.
Also around this time, KSMH members and others involved in the fight against corruption began to receive an increasing number of anonymous death threats by phone. These threats forced Ms Josephine Aska, Director of the Central Region Deaf Network, to flee her home. One such threat, received on 20 July, stated as follows: “you and your gang, you should know that this is election time, and if that thing comes out on air, and spoils my chances of running mate with Uhuru, you will disappear like the famous doctor.”
On 23 July, when the human rights defenders attempted to report these threats to the police, the first officer they approached refused to record the complaints in the Occurrences Book due to the fact that they could implicate a government minister, and the second officer advised them to attempt to report the threats in a rural area where both the complainants and the officer recording the complaints would be less at risk.
This escalation took place after journalists conducted interviews with people affiliated with the NCPWD, UDPK and its member organisations, as well as officials from the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development, including Ms Esther Murugi, former Minister for Gender, Children and Social Development, and Ms Naomi Shaban, the current Minister, about the evidence of corruption they had discovered.
This is not the first time that the members of KSMH, and particularly Edah Maina have faced intimidation and death threats for their human rights work. Edah Maina's apartment was broken into after KSMH opened a court action against several government bodies in September 2011 for the alleged misappropriation of funds. Only a torch was stolen in spite of the fact that there were a number of valuable electronic devices in the apartment.
Furthermore, after organising a peaceful demonstration in March 2011 calling for the fair distribution of funds allocated to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Development, a series of death threats were made against KSMH members. They were told that they would be beheaded if they left their homes and Edah Maina was threatened that her daughter would be kidnapped.
Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Edah Maina, David Wanjama, Prabhudnas Pattni and Josephine Aska, as well as that of their families and all those involved in the fight against corruption in the disability sector in Kenya. Front Line Defenders condemns the repeated death threats and other acts of persecution against the aforementioned human rights defenders, and believes that they are solely motivated by their legitimate activities in the defence of human rights.