Branded an ICC witness, Kenya woman fears for life
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A photo of a woman who purportedly testified against Kenya’s deputy president at his International Criminal Court trial was plastered on social media and blogs in Kenya, leading her to fear for her safety and underscoring the level of tension that persists in Kenya five years after post-election violence degenerated into inter-tribal warfare.
A bitter irony for Rahab Muthoni, whose family home was burned down during the bloody upheaval, is that she did not testify in the trial in The Hague this week against deputy president William Ruto, who along with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and broadcaster Joshua Sang is accused of orchestrating the violence that killed 1,133 people.
“The photograph is mine but I have nothing to do with the ICC cases. I am not a witness in any case,” Muthoni said. She said she received many calls from friends and relatives who sought to know why the picture was in the social media.
“Some began condemning me for going to The Hague to testify even without asking me whether it was true I had gone to testify. I am in shock,” she said.
The presiding judge in Ruto’s trial, Chile Eboe-Osuji, was worried enough about witness intimidation that he noted it is an offense “to do anything intentionally that would amount to corruptly influencing a witness, obstructing or interfering with the attendance or testimony of a witness or retaliating against a witness for giving testimony.”
Speaking in the court in the Netherlands, He called on journalists, bloggers and social media users “to desist from doing anything that would reveal or attempt to reveal the identity of protected witnesses or to engage in secondary dissemination of such wrongful and illegal information.”
Much of Thursday’s hearings were conducted in closed session, but in a brief open session, Eboe-Osuji said that judges were aware that “an attempt was made to reveal the identity of witness 536, a protected witness.” Witness 536 is the first witness testifying.
Muthoni, who is 27, told The Associated Press that she reported her fears for her safety to police late Wednesday and has moved out of her house. She is staying “with a friend to allow things to cool down.”
A prominent Kenyan television broadcaster defended himself Wednesday against claims he had identified the witness, saying his Twitter account where the purported name of the witness appeared had been hacked.
The broadcaster, Willis Raburu, wrote in a blog posting: “I would like to state clearly that I did not name any ICC witness.”
Ruto and Kenyatta are accused by ICC prosecutors of leading opposite sides fighting in the postelection violence. The politicians joined in a coalition earlier this year. Its backers claim it will bring peace and unity in the Rift valley between Kenyatta’s Kikuyu community and Ruto’s Kalenjin community, which have clashed over land during previous elections. Land ownership has been a longstanding grudge between tribes, with some in Kenya feeling that Kikuyus were favored in land redistributions following independence from Britain.
Human rights lawyer Harun Ndubi says the peace in the Rift Valley is superficial because “in order to have meaningful and sustainable peace there has to be justice and the perpetrators of violence have never been brought to book. There is no closure,” Ndubi said.
There are concerns that witness interference could undermine the landmark case — the court’s first trial of such a high-ranking politician while he is still in office.
Ruto, Kenyatta and Sang have been charged with crimes against humanity. More than 1,000 people and 600,000 were forced from their homes. The violence started as protests over a flawed Dec. 27, 2007, presidential election but degenerated into tribe versus tribe fighting.
Muthoni lives in Eldoret, in the Rift Valley, which saw most of the fighting in 2007-08. Eldoret is also Ruto’s home town and part of his support base.
The first witness, whom Muthoni as mistaken for, testified anonymously and couldn’t be seen from the court’s public gallery.
On Tuesday, she said thousands of youths from the Kalenjin tribe, armed with spears, machetes and arrows, descended on the church where Kikuyu tribe members were sheltering. She told the court that they barricaded the church doors shut with bicycles, threw stones and fired arrows at the windows and then torched the building on Jan. 1, 2008.
A commission of inquiry found that 28 people were killed at the Kenyan Assemblies of God church in the Rift Valley village of Kiambaa.
Muthoni said her parents’ home where she lived was torched in an area about 47 kilometers (29 miles) from Eldoret known as Burnt Forest.
Even before the trial started, prosecutors made claims of widespread witness intimidation, while defense lawyers made counterclaims that the ICC case is built on lies.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder contributed from The Hague.