Nairobi – A Kenyan court on Friday found three police officers and an informer guilty of murdering a human rights lawyer, his client and their driver, six years after the killings triggered angry protests.
The bodies of lawyer Willie Kimani – who had criticised police abuse – as well as his client Josephat Mwenda and driver Joseph Muiruri were found wrapped in sacks and dumped in a river outside Nairobi in June 2016.
The torture and killing of the three men sparked fury in Kenya, where many people fear the police.
On Friday, high court judge Jessie Lessit ruled that three officers as well as a police informer were guilty of murder. A fourth policeman was acquitted.
“I am satisfied that there was no other reasonable hypothesis that can be made on the basis of the evidence before me except that of guilt,” she said.
Kimani was defending a motorbike taxi driver who accused policeman Fredrick Leliman of shooting him for no reason at a traffic stop in 2015.
Leliman was among the three officers found guilty in Friday’s verdict.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of death.
The sentencing will be announced on September 3, the International Justice Mission (IJM), the global legal aid group which Kimani worked for, told AFP.
When authorities found his body, Kimani’s wrists were bound with rope, three of his fingers had been chopped off and his eyes appeared to have been gouged out.
Police in Kenya have been accused in the past of running hit squads targeting those — including activists and lawyers — investigating alleged rights abuses by police.
“Willie, Joseph and Josephat met their untimely death while courageously pursuing justice and seeking accountability for excessive use of force by our law enforcement agents,” IJM’s country director Benson Shamala said.
“This important decision will send a strong message to rogue police officers who abuse their powers that they will be held accountable under the law.”
The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) also hailed the verdict.
“It should serve not only as a relief to the relatives, friends and colleagues of the deceased persons, but (also as) a deterrent to law enforcement officers who use their power to infringe on the rights of citizens”, the police watchdog said.
Kenya’s parliament established the IPOA in 2011 to provide civilian scrutiny of a powerful institution also reputed to be among the country’s most corrupt.
Only a handful of officers have been convicted as a result of IPOA investigations, even though the watchdog has examined more than 6,000 cases of alleged police misconduct, according to data covering the period from its inception to June 2020.
Activists largely defend the IPOA’s record, saying police often frustrate inquiries by refusing to cooperate.