Kenyan police in murder charge

March 28, 1997

Eleven Kenyan police officers are to stand trial for the murder of two university students.

Nairobi chief magistrate Pamela Kidullah said the accused officers had a case to answer for the shooting of the Kenyatta University students in December 1996. She directed the commissioner of police Duncan Wachira to arrest another named constable and bring him to court without delay.

Among the officers to stand trial is police chief Stephen Kainanga, who was in charge of the police station nearest the university.

One constable was discharged for lack of evidence. He was a member of the squad that had gone to the university to break up a demonstration by students mourning the shooting by police of a student at Egerton University a day earlier.

The magistrate criticised students for behaving as if they were above the law. "If need be, some students will appear in court individually and answer charges that might be made against them," said Ms Kidullah, referring to allegations that mobs of students had confronted the police inside the university's main campus and attacked them with stones.

Vice chancellor George Eshiwani described the police action as "senseless and unwarranted". Professor Eshiwani denied having called the police to the campus to break up the demonstration.

The students at Egerton University had rioted after a disagreement with the university administration over a refund of 500 shillings (Pounds 5.50) per student which was part of the students' allocation from the higher education loans board.

As the students protested, the university administration called the police who arrived at the campus and ordered the students to disperse. Witnesses said that as police fired tear gas canisters the students ran away in different directions and police fired live bullets killing Etaba Okon'go instantly.

Egerton's vice chancellor Japheth Kiptoon blamed political activists of Richard Leakey's Safina Party for instigating the riots.

However, Safina denied having anything to do with the riots and asked Professor Kiptoon to produce his evidence. During the riots the students burned down the office of the local Kenya African National Union (KANU) party.

Since then, a committee of inquiry has been set up to probe the circumstances that led to the shooting. However, no one has been charged with the killing.

The arrest and subsequent trial of the 11 police officers is being regarded as a milestone in Kenya, since it has never happened before. Nairobi and Egerton universities remain closed following the death of student leader Solomon Muruli in a fire that destroyed a hostel at the University of Nairobi, just after he had identified a police officer who he claims was among a group that had tortured him.

The British high commissioner also demanded an investigation.

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