NAIROBI, Kenya: As many as 8,040 young Kenyans have been executed or tortured to death since 2002 during a five-year police crackdown on an outlawed sect, according to a report by a group of Kenyan lawyers.
A further 4,070 young men have gone missing between August 2002 and August 2007 after being held in police custody, said the report by the Oscar Foundation Free Legal Aid Clinic-Kenya released Saturday.
The report does not offer evidence on who was responsible for the deaths and disappearances but said most of the missing were last seen in police custody.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe dismissed the report as “a document not worth responding to.”
“It is fictitious and the people disseminating it have a questionable character and motive,” Kiraithe told The Associated Press.
Police began a crackdown on a sect called Mungiki when it was outlawed in March 2002 after at least 20 people were killed in fighting between it and a rival gang.
Mungiki claims to have thousands of adherents, all drawn from the Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe. The group, whose name means “multitude” in the Kikuyu language, was inspired by the bloody Mau Mau rebellion.
Mungiki began as a group promoting traditional Kikuyu practices, including female genital mutilation, but gradually became involved in extortion, murder and providing hired muscle to politicians.
The report is based on interviews with relatives, police records of when the young men were in police custody, autopsy reports and other records kept by the campaigning group, said the foundation’s executive director, Kamau Kingara. The group began by offering legal help to people living with AIDS six years ago, but over the years has taken on other cases.
This latest report follows one from the state-funded Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights released earlier this month that linked police to the deaths of more than 450 young men in the past five months in a crackdown on Mungiki.
That report did not explicitly blame the police for the deaths, but said “circumstantial evidence” linked the police to the killings and said the force seemed to be blocking efforts to find the killers.
A Mungiki leader, Gitau Njenga, said that a clique within President Mwai Kibaki’s administration was using the police to perpetrate the killings of suspected Mungiki adherents.
Njenga also denied the group was responsible for the killings earlier this year of more than 27 people, many of whom were beheaded.
“The Mungiki has nothing to do with the beheadings … the police should investigate the true perpetrators of these crimes. They have the machinery,” Njenga said.
The allegations and denials of police brutality come at a sensitive time. President Kibaki is seeking re-election this December.
His biggest challenger, Raila Odinga, has promised to rid the country of Mungiki within a month if he is elected president.
Mungiki members threatened to disrupt the elections and circulated leaflets in July calling on Kenyan youth to rise up against the government.
The government has already launched a campaign against electoral violence, featuring children orphaned by political thugs. There have already been several election-related attacks on politicians and their supporters.
Njenga told The Associated Press the group wants to reconcile with the government.
“Why should we fight for 19 years like (Ugandan rebel leader Joseph) Kony or the Southern Sudan rebels and then eventually sit down to discuss peace?” Njenga said. “We want to discuss peace with the government now.”