|The thorny question of how to deal with youths arrested over post-election violence has returned to haunt the grand coalition with Prime Minister Raila Odinga saying they should be released unconditionally “because they committed no crime”.
|Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE
However, Mr Odinga’s sentiments appeared to be at variance with Internal Security minister George Saitoti’s, who said those linked to the violence should be prosecuted to discourage impunity and promote peace.
Prof Saitoti made the remarks at a meeting with senior Administration Police officers in Nairobi.
But while addressing the Law Society of Kenya monthly luncheon at the Hilton Hotel in Nairobi, where he was the chief guest, Mr Odinga said: “I don’t think we should be talking about giving amnesty to these young men because they committed no crime.
“Is it a crime to fight for your democratic rights? Or is it a crime to stand and say that last year’s elections were rigged?”
The PM said that he supported the unconditional release of all those arrested over the violence in which more than 1,200 people were killed and over 350,000 others displaced from their homes.
He added that the matter was discussed by the Cabinet and handed over to Attorney-General Amos Wako to resolve.
“This matter should not be dealt with by politicians because they are partisan to this issue in one way or another,” Mr Odinga said.
But at the Kenya Institute of Education, Prof Saitoti said 4,690 cases of petty offences linked to the violence had been prosecuted and urged the police to speed up investigations into and prosecutions of the remaining 8,000, including serious crimes like rape, arson and murder.
On February 28, Mr Odinga and President Kibaki signed a deal that was to end the violence sparked by a dispute over who between them won the December 27 presidential election.
The Electoral Commission declared Mr Mwai Kibaki the winner, but ODM disputed the results.
The deal between President Kibaki and Mr Odinga was brokered by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.
Among other things, it provided for a grand coalition with Mr Odinga as Prime Minister with ODM and the PNU coalition sharing Cabinet seats.
Thursday, Prof Saitoti promised to protect and defend security forces as long as they performed their duties within the limits of the law.
According to him, “prosecution (of the perpetrators of violence) would ensure the perceived culture of impunity is eliminated, rule of law restored and confidence in police strengthened.”
MPs from the Rift Valley, including Cabinet ministers, William Ruto and Henry Kosgey, have been campaigning for the release of the youths who were arrested during the post-election violence during which mobs went on a killing, looting, arson and raping spree, at times blocking major highways to protest at the outcome of the presidential elections and other grievances.
But another group of ministers, including Justice minister Martha Karua and Prof Saitoti have opposed calls for amnesty, saying the law must be allowed to take its course.
Eldoret, Nakuru, Naivasha, Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu were some of the areas hardest hit by the violence.
The number of youths in custody has been difficult to ascertain with police saying only 137 were in remand, while some leaders, including Mr Ruto, put the figure at 12,000.