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Kenyan Guilty of Wife-Beating

October 8, 1998

KAJIADO, Kenya (AP) _ The husband of a Maasai woman who was the first in her tribe to sue her spouse for abuse was found guilty Thursday of beating his wife for five hours with a club.

Magistrate Charles Gitonga ordered Moita Ole Risa to pay a $83 fine or face six months in prison. Ole Risa forfeited his bail and left the courtroom a free man as his wife, Agnes Siyiankoi, watched with tears in her eyes.

Siyiankoi, a 31-year-old mother of four, testified Feb. 9 that her husband clubbed her so badly she had to be carried to a hospital by bicycle.

Ole Risa, a factory guard in his late 50s, denied harming his wife of 13 years.

Wife-beating is a practice that cuts across class lines in Kenya, without regard to cultural, economic or educational differences. Although the practice, like any other form of assault, is illegal, women who complain face intense social pressure to conform.

Siyiankoi said she was unhappy with the sentence and would appeal the Magistrate’s Court ruling.

``I will pursue the case to set an example to women,″ she said. ``I am taking care of the children alone. My parents are ready to return the three-cow dowry that they paid for me.″

Ole Risa had faced a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and lashes with a cane rod.

But Siyiankoi’s lawyer, Gideon Solonka, said he was satisfied with the judgment.

``It was okay in the sense that the court found that wife-beating is wrong,″ he said. ``It is revolutionary not only in the Maasai community but to the whole republic that wife-beating is not justifiable, it is a criminal offense punishable in law.″

The judge said he found that Siyiankoi told the truth, and the testimony of one of her children corroborated it.

``I am of the view that a husband in Kenya, like his counterpart in England, has no disciplinary powers over his wife. His only remedy against his errant wife is to seek divorce,″ said Gitonga.

The court was packed with Maasai elders and relatives of Ole Risa who wanted him acquitted and were unhappy with the decision.