News 2008


Security team alarmed by mob lynchings

Daily Nation


13. Feb. 2008

The Imenti North District security committee is alarmed by increased cases of lynching of theft suspects in the Meru municipality.

So far, seven suspects have been set ablaze in Makutano, Kooje, Mjini and Mwendantu areas, which are within a distance of one kilometre.

The residents round up the suspects, who they accuse of being part of a 10-man gang taking part in house break-ins and street muggings, and frog march them to set-up points for the lynching.

They accuse the police of laxity in apprehending them, thus prompting the residents to resort to extra-judicial killings.

“We keep on complaining but no action is taken, and if they are arrested, we see them in the streets before a week ends,” said one of the Makutano residents.

The most ruthless

Makutano is perhaps the most ruthless of them, having witnessed the setting on fire of four of the suspects.

The residents claim to have prepared a ‘list’ of 10 suspects who they insist, must go up in flames.

But local district commissioner Chege Mwangi is cautioning area residents against lynching robbery suspects, saying the trend was hampering investigations.

He says the truth may never be known if killings continue.

The administrator said if the suspects were arrested, they would probably reveal where they were selling the goods they had stolen.

“We need to know; who are these people who are stealing? Who are their accomplices and where they store and sell the stolen items? Unless the suspects are apprehended by law enforcers, we might not get to the root of the problem,” said Mr Mwangi.

He said only through police interrogation can the crime series be busted.

The call comes after seven suspected thieves were lynched in three weeks within the municipality while three are still on the run.

Two weeks ago, Mr Mwangi convened a security meeting where he emphasised the need for the killings to stop.

He admitted that the crime levels within the municipality had risen during the December holidays, but blamed the situation on overstretching of the security personnel, many of who had been deployed to cover the last General Election.

“This should not excuse anyone to take the law into his hands,” he said.

The DC has resorted to holding public meetings in various settlements, especially around the municipality, to streamline the community policing strategy.

An inspector of police has been specifically stationed to train people on community policing in the district.

“We are now at 80 per cent of implementation”

“The concept is to encourage them to undertake their social activities together so that they can develop a close-knit community,” said Mr Mwangi.

The administrator acknowledges that one of the main impediments to curbing the trend lies on many of the residents’ unwillingness to testify in court.

“We hold suspects for a long time but we eventually have to set them free due to lack of evidence”, says Mr Mwangi in frustration.

Last Sunday, officer in-charge of Meru police station Mark Liamo had to plead with an angry group of Mjini residents, who wanted to lynch a suspected thief from Kooje area.

He has twice rescued suspects who had just been doused in petrol in readiness to be lynched.

And even as the suspect was arrested, doubts still abound on whether those who wanted to lynch him will be willing to record statements with the police.

“They told us to our face that they will wait for him to be released and then lynch him,” said a policeman, who could not be named.

The officer told the Nation that the residents had extracted ‘testimony’ from the suspect incriminating four other alleged accomplices.

Other alleged accomplices

Many of the residents, disillusioned by the high rates of acquittals, have now resorted in the extra-judicial approach.

“We have a list of all of them…no matter how long it takes; we will have our ‘justice’. We don’t think it will come from the courts,” said a resident of Kooje estate.

But Mr Mwangi promises to ensure that police patrols are beefed up in the affected areas and is hopeful that the concept of community policing will fully be embraced.

He has also ordered the crackdown on spiralling chang’aa dens in the municipality’s slums and bars to close at the recommended time.

His efforts received a boost last week following the arrival of a new area officer commanding the police division, Mr Paul Ruto, reputed for tackling organised gangs may well help crack the troublemakers.

But the security team has to proceed with haste to forestall the intended lynching by instilling confidence in the residents that the suspects will be subjected to a professional investigation and thorough trial.

As things stand now, no end in sight to the lynching.