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Glimmer of hope for justice in Kenyan death

By Tom Rhodes/CPJ East Africa Consultant on November 3, 2011 4:28 PM ET

Slain journalist Francis Nyaruri received threatening calls from a senior policeman shortly before he disappeared and his decapitated body was found in Kodera forest, western Kenya, a court sitting in Kisumu heard today in the presence of two murder suspects and four witnesses.

Witnesses detailed to presiding Judge Hillary Chemitei how the former Weekly Citizen investigative reporter disappeared on January 15, 2009. A local administrator, Harrison Adika, told the court how he found Nyaruri two weeks later, his head decapitated and hands tied, shortly after Nyaruri published a story implicating former Police Chief Njoroge Mwaura of Nyamira in western Kenya for fraud.

The prosecution, lead by Principal State Counsel Patrick Gumo, told the judge how Nyaruri was conducting an investigative story of suspected corruption and malfeasance in a major building project for police officers.

A distressed Josephine Kwamboka, the widow of the deceased, said that after a week of futile attempts to report the disappearance of her husband to the police, she was summoned to the Kisii mortuary to identify the body. "What did you see in the mortuary?" asked Gumo. "A decomposing body. The head had been severed and placed next to the body. I identified the head and the body as my husband's," she told the court.

Under cross-examination by defense lawyers Ochieng Ochieng and Maube Muyeya, the widow said Nyaruri's exposé on sub-standard roofing material for a police housing project made Mwaura angry. "That night [after the exposé was published], the substandard roofing my husband had written about was removed and replaced with the originally intended roofing," she told the court. Kwamboka also mentioned that their family lawyer, Andrew Mandi, had fled to an undisclosed location after receiving threats from Mwaura for pursuing Nyaruri's murder case. Mandi remains in hiding.

Another witness, Peter Nyaruri, father of the slain journalist, said he had urged his son to seek a different profession after Nyaruri confided to his dad that he had received threats from Mwaura and his life was in danger. The state counsel did not question the two suspects, William Nyambati and Japeth Mangera. Mwaura, who remains in the police but has since transferred away from Nyamira, has not been charged and was not in court.

The hearing will continue on March 1, 2012, where the prosecution will present eight more witnesses. After two years of justice delayed, a glimmer of hope for an end to impunity for killing a local journalist may be in sight.

Journalists in western Kenya operate with significant self-censorship in fear of retribution from local gangs with ties to the police, CPJ research has shown.


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