Posted 2013/2/25

Kenya: Two-year old trial against human rights defenders Ms Ruth Mumbi and Victoria Atieno resumes in a Nairobi court

Ruth Mumbi stands accused alongside Victoria AtienoRuth Mumbi stands accused alongside Victoria Atieno

On 26 February 2013, the next hearing will take place of a two-year old trial, in which human rights defenders and women's rights activists Ms Ruth Mumbi and Ms Victoria Atieno are accused of incitement to violence. The case resumed at the Makadara Law Courts in Nairobi on 21 February 2013.

Ruth Mumbi is a community mobiliser and founder and current National Coordinator of Bunge la Wamama (Women's Parliament), a movement that conducts advocacy and campaigning on issues of social justice, in particular women's rights. Ruth Mumbi is also a finalist for the 2013 Front Line Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. Victoria Atieno is an event coordinator for Bunge la Wamama in the Mathare constituency.

The human rights defenders stand accused of incitement of violence in connection with a peaceful demonstration organised on 28 February 2011 to protest against an increase in deaths of pregnant women at the Huruma Nursing Home, a hospital serving residents of Huruma, one of the major slums in Nairobi located in the Mathare constituency.

According to the human rights defenders, the hearings in their trial have been adjourned at least five times, each adjournment being triggered by the absence at the trial of the administrator of Huruma Nursing Home, both a key witness and complainant in this case. During the hearing on 21 February 2013, the administrator of Huruma Nursing Home turned up at the Court. However, this was a new administrator who replaced the person who managed the establishment at the time when the protest organised by Bunge la Wamama took place.

As the judge raised questions about this change of witness, the administrator responded that the sole purpose of his presence at Makadara Law Courts was to present Huruma Nursing Home's desire that the case be dismissed.

The Court noted the motion presented by the complainant in this case, but decided to allow the accused human rights defenders to express their opinion on it. The hearing was thus postponed to 26 February 2013, the day Ruth Mumbi and Victoria Atieno are expected to tell the Court their opinion of the complainant's motion for dismissal.

From the day they were charged, they have maintained their innocence and expressed concerns that they were victims of malicious prosecution. For that reason, the human rights defenders will likely want the trial to proceed so that a lawsuit may be subsequently filed and damages claimed. They also see the trial as a unique opportunity to alert the public about poor health services offered at Huruma Nursing Home.

On 28 February 2011, Ruth Mumbi and Victoria Atieno were among the residents of Huruma Estate in Nairobi that took to the streets after a woman from the area had died while giving birth. The protesters claimed that the woman had died as a result of medical negligence. They also claimed that since the beginning of that year, up to 25 women, most of them pregnant, had died at the same hospital in similar circumstances of negligence. They requested that the hospital be investigated. As they demonstrated peacefully outside the hospital, police, alerted by the administration of the hospital, intervened to disperse them. In the process, they reportedly singled out Ruth Mumbi and Victoria Atieno for arrest. Two passers by were also arrested.

The human rights defenders were taken to Langata prison, and were brought to court the following day and subsequently released on bail after being charged with “incitement to violence.” This case against Ruth Mumbi and Victoria Atieno was referred to in an urgent appeal issued by Front Line Defenders on 30 October 2012.

Front Line Defenders reiterates its belief that the charges faced by Ruth Mumbi and Victoria Atieno are solely motivated by their legitimate human rights activities, in particular their work to defend the rights of pregnant women by denouncing rising maternal mortality rates in Kenya. Front Line Defenders believes this legal action against Ruth Mumbi and Victoria Atieno to form part of a wider and continued campaign of judicial harassment against human rights defenders in the country.

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