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Kenya to blame over terror suspect trials

By Haggai Matsiko

Ladislus Rwakafuzi, a senior Human rights Lawyer in Kampala, spoke to The independent’s Haggai Matsiko about the trial Kenyan suspects of the July 11 bomb attacks, including Kenyan lawyer, Al’Amin Kimathi.

Some people say that governments use the war on terror as a pretext to crush dissenting views. Do you agree?

On the contrary I think people with minority views resort to terrorism so as to be heard. Terrorism has in most cases been the weapon of the weak who want to express their extreme views that cannot find currency in the market place. The question is whether the existence of democracy can itself fight terrorism or prevent it by giving these extremists other ways or avoiding a situation where it is resorted to.

We have not seen this happen, the U.S is a democracy but we have still seen extreme views expressed through terrorism. So, I don’t know if democracy can itself fight democracy. On the other hand, I am attracted to the view that autocracy can because I have not heard of terrorism in China yet I am sure there are many people in China who hate the government, they would use terrorism to express their views but they cannot partly because of its autocratic nature and its security measures. But it is debatable.

As a human rights defender, how do you react to the way Al’Amin Kimathi who is the head of the Muslims Human Rights Fund in Nairobi was treated?

Al’Amin Kimathi came to my chambers last year on Aug.31 with another lawyer called Mbugua Mureithi. He told me that his people had been brought here. We went to Luzira and visited them. He then went to the Kenyan embassy, requested them to carry out their duties in regards people who are in jail. On Sept.14 when he returned, he was arrested and jointly charged with these people. He was charged because he was funding the terrorists’ defense. They did not want those people defended.

Everyone has a right to defense, isn’t it an extreme on the government’s side to deny suspects that right?

The case of Al’Amin Kimathi is funny. I would not put the blame on the Uganda government. Actually for all those suspects from Kenya, most of them were sent here by their government because it had had headache from them and also because they do not have the anti-terrorism act. So the Kenyan state found it convenient to offload those big headed Muslims in Kenya here and I think Kimathi fell in that category. So you will find that a few of them may be one or two could have partaken in the attacks but the rest were brought here because they had been a thorn in the flesh of the Kenyan government in their mosques and so on.

Aren’t such situations dangerous especially as we head for political integration? That one government is having problems from certain groups of people and offloads them to another country to be tried?

That is correct. When you arrest people like that, their families become more agitated and they become a breeding ground for more terror.

Terrorism is very bad and people who share extreme views whether on gay rights, environment, abortion or any extreme views are breeding ground for terror, so whenever such people express their views in such ways governments should arrest those it suspects reasonably. That is why people accused even of terrorism should be tried as soon as possible because most of them are always innocent.

But government would say that the capacity to gather evidence quickly and try these people in time is still lacking?

No, government should not plead that they do not have the capacity. Government has the resources; they can always ensure that they try people in time. They can appoint more judges, more magistrates, and more police officers.

Is there a provision for compensation in Al’Amin’s case?

If you are unlawfully arrested, that is arrested with no reasonable suspicion that you have committed an offense, unlawfully detained like Al’Amin and maliciously prosecuted like he has been, then he is entitled to damages. In this case, he is in my opinion entitled to more than US$ 50,000.

What about the terrorists who confessed? Some say that when you plead guilty, court still needs evidence to prove that you are indeed guilty?

No, court does not need evidence because when you are adults unless they you are mad. In our law, if a person pleads guilty then they are.

But many people seem to think that that they pleaded guilty to be state witnesses against the other suspects and get a lenient sentence?

There is evidence linking these people to the attacks. All the leads they gave to the government were correct. They did it and there is evidence against them.

What if they give evidence that pins the other suspects, will it be fair on the part of the others?

Their evidence will not be given very much weight because they are not clean. Court cannot entirely rely on that evidence to try others unless that evidence is corroborated with something else.

In their plea for a lenient sentence, these people cite influence; does it stand as a defense?

No it doesn’t, if you argue that you were influenced there must be evidence of compulsion. You must show that you were compelled to do something lest something very bad happens to you. So influence must tantamount to compulsion.

According to the confessions these people show that they did not know that it was going to result into terror attacks and that by the time they discovered it was, it was too late and even then they were threatened with death, isn’t that compulsion?

Even if they were threatened with death they would have sought state protection. They would have told government that this is happening. They should have revealed this before the bombs but they didn’t and the bombs killed people. I do not see how you then claim that it was under influence.

Do you think this trial has had any impact on Ugandans? What have you personally made out of it?

Well, I think it has shown that the government is in charge. Our security organs, the police, the judiciary have done their part to make sure that these people are tried. I think it has brought confidence in the people because there was a possibility that there would be no trial or that the trial would be much delayed but now the people who lost their loved ones in the attacks know the people who perpetrated it. I don’t know if it discourages people from terrorism but I think it does.

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