Case History: Lydia Mukami
Lydia Mukami and her colleagues at the Mwea Foundation have faced threats and direct violence as a result of their human rights work. Lydia herself was abducted, beaten and stripped of her clothes in public. She has also received threatening messages and her home has been torched.
Lydia Mukami is the chair of the Mwea Foundation, a grass-roots organisation of rice farmers in the Mwea constituency of Kirinyaga county, in the Central Province of Kenya. The Mwea Foundation has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to challenge the constitutionality of the 1966 Irrigation Act (Cap 347). The Mwea Foundation argues that the Act is retrogressive as it prohibits women from owning land, violates a host of socio-economic rights of the Mwea farmers and gives excessive powers to the National Irrigation Board (NIB) with regard to the administration of the area.
At the dawn of 1 June 2013, human rights defender Ms Lydia Mukami was abandoned in the bush after being abducted by unidentified men who had spent several hours subjecting her to physical assault.
Lydia Mukami is the chairperson of Mwea Foundation, a grassroots organisation of rice farmers in the Mwea constituency that has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to challenge the constitutionality of Kenya's 1966 Irrigation Act (Cap 347). Lydia Mukami and her colleagues believe this Act to be retrogressive as it prohibits women from owning land, violates a host of socio-economic rights of Mwea farmers and gives excessive powers to the National Irrigation Board (NIB) with regard to the administration of the area.
On the evening of 31 May 2013, Lydia Mukami had travelled to Thika, a town located at about 40kms from Nairobi where she was planning to meet a friend. Soon after arriving in Thika at approximately 8pm, the human rights defender learned that the meeting with her friend was cancelled. As she was walking back to the bus station to return to Nairobi, a saloon car in which four men were travelling blocked her way, and a man got out of the car and slapped her hard in the face.
In the confusion, the other three men forced her into the car where she was made to sit in the back seat between two men. As the car gained speed, the two men in the back seat blindfolded the human rights defender and searched her pockets taking almost all possessions that she had including cash, credit cards and identification papers. The two men then started to physically assault the human rights defender whilst interrogating her on her role in the court case pending before the Supreme Court.
On 1 November 2012, Mwea Foundation formally filed a petition to the Supreme Court against the NIB, Kenya's Attorney General and the Land Ministry. The Mwea Foundation has long advocated for Mwea rice farmers to be granted title deeds, and it believes this will be done if the court rules in their favour.
The assailants also took the human rights defender's phone and used it to call her colleagues in an effort to intimidate them. At approximately 10:40pm, they called Mr Victor Munene, the vice-chair of Mwea Foundation to tell him that they had his colleague Lydia Mukami and that they would come for him in due course. Later they called Mr Paul Muchira, the Foundation's treasurer, with the same message. They told Lydia Mukami to withdraw her petition by Monday, 3 June 2013; and that if she did not do so she would have only three options left: “a rope, a bullet or poison.”
After an ordeal that lasted several hours the men abandoned Lydia Mukami in the bush, at the break of dawn. From there, she had to walk for about three hours before she reached a main road, where she was directed to a police station located in a small town called Yatta. The human rights defender has made statements at both the Yatta and Thika police stations.
Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of Lydia Mukami, particularly in light of the threats which referred to the withdrawal of her petition by 3 June 2013. Front Line Defenders believes that the abduction and physical assault she was subjected to were motivated solely by her peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights, particularly the socio-economic rights of the Mwea rice farmers.
On 25 May 2013, a meeting of the Mwea Foundation, a grassroots organisation of rice farmers in the Mwea constituency, was interrupted by the deputy governor for Kirinyaga county, who called people out of the meeting, reportedly to ask how the organisation was funding itself.
After the meeting Ms Lydia Mukami, the chair of Mwea Foundation, was followed and had to spend the night other than where she had planned. It is also reported that unknown people were asking about her whereabouts at her home.
The incident comes just two days after a handwritten note was left at the home of human rights defender Mr Victor Munene, vice-chair of Mwea Foundation, threatening him and Lydia Mukami.
The Mwea Foundation has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to challenge the constitutionality of Kenya's 1966 Irrigation Act (Cap 347), arguing this Act is retrogressive as it prohibits women from owning land, violates a host of socio-economic rights of the Mwea farmers and gives excessive powers to the National Irrigation Board (NIB) with regard to the administration of the area. The Mwea Foundation has long advocated for Mwea rice farmers to be granted title deeds, and it believes this will be done if the court rules in their favour.
On 23 May 2013, at approximately 3am, Victor Munene was awakened by a disturbance at his house in Mwea. When the human rights defender went outside to investigate, he found that five chickens had been stolen and a note had been left not far from the hen house.
The note was entitled "Onyo! Onyo!" (Warning! Warning!) and was signed anonymously by "wana mwea" (Residents of Mwea). It said that the human rights defenders were being monitored, and that their roles in the court case were well known. It demanded the withdrawal by the human rights defenders from the case, stated that this was the first and last warning, and wrapped up with: "you are advocates of human right; but we are advocates of human wrong. Make up your minds, we are watching you".
Victor Munene reported the incident to the local police on the same day.
Lydia Mukami has previously received a number of threatening text messages, and was also threatened on the occasion of the death of Mr Kiguru Kinyanjui, who was perceived as a key witness in the case. On 23 April 2013, the chairman of the Mwea Water Users Association, which is affiliated with the NIB, showed the human rights defender a message he had received informing him of the death of Kiguru Kinyanjui and said to her: “Soon we will be reading a message like this about you” and “It's not just a threat, we have the machinery and the ability to just do that”. Later the vice-chair of the same organisation said to her: “You will die like a vulture in the wilderness”.
The human rights defender has reported these incidents to police but feels no investigation has been launched.
Threats against the leaders of Mwea Foundation have continued since the day the organisation launched its campaign to have the Irrigation Act repealed.
On 20 July 2012, people armed with sticks and knives disrupted a public meeting organised by Mwea Foundation. During the incident, allegedly orchestrated by the Mwea NIB management, Lydia Mukami was beaten up and stripped of her clothes.
The human rights defender was forced to flee the Mwea constituency fearing for her life and although she has mostly been in hiding she is still receiving threats.
On 3 September 2012 the human rights defender, accompanied by a friend, travelled back to Mwea to assess the situation. As the two drove back to Nairobi that afternoon they were followed by a car with armed men inside. They fled to a nearby police station where they spent the night.
On 1 November 2012, Mwea Foundation formally filed their court petition against the NIB, Kenya's Attorney General and the Land Ministry. Victor Munene was forced to go into hiding after the NIB management organised a series of meetings throughout the constituency demanding that wherever members of the Mwea Foundation were seen “they should be dealt with thoroughly.” Around the same time, the human rights defender's house was broken into, six chickens stolen and the leg of his dog broken.
On 13 March 2013, unidentified arsonists torched a maize plantation belonging to Mr Paul Muchira, Mwea Foundation's treasurer. This incident forced the human rights defender to flee to Embu (about 50 kms from Mwea), fearing for his life.
On 19 March 2013, Lydia Mukami's house in Mwea in which two of her brothers lived was torched by unidentified arsonists, forcing the brothers to move out of Mwea. On 15 April 2013, Paul Muchira's main house in Mwea was demolished. On 15 May 2013, another of his houses was robbed and the maize harvest therein stolen.
Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of Lydia Mukami and Victor Munene, as well as that of their colleagues, and believes that the ongoing campaign of intimidation against them is a direct result of their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of human rights.