Abduction and physical assault of human rights defender Lydia Mukami in Kenya

June 5, 2013

On 1 June 2013 at dawn, Kenyan human rights defender Ms Lydia Mukami was abandoned in a bush after being abducted by unidentified men who had spent several hours subjecting her to physical assault. Lydia Mukami is the chairperson of Mwea Foundation, a grassroots organisation of rice farmers in the Mwea constituency that has been at the forefront of an ongoing campaign to challenge the constitutionality of Kenya’s 1966 Irrigation Act. Lydia Mukami and her colleagues believe this Act to be retrogressive as it prohibits women from owning land, violates a host of socio-economic rights of Mwea farmers and gives excessive powers to the National Irrigation Board (NIB) with regard to the administration of the area.

On the evening of 31 May 2013, Lydia Mukami had travelled to Thika and as she was walking back to the bus station to return to Nairobi, a saloon car in which four men were travelling blocked her way, and a man got out of the car and slapped her hard in the face. In the confusion, the other three men forced her into the car where she was made to sit in the back seat between two men. As the car gained speed, the two men in the back seat blindfolded the human rights defender and searched her pockets taking almost all possessions that she had including cash, credit cards and identification papers. The two men then started to physically assault the human rights defender whilst interrogating her on her role in the court case pending before the Supreme Court.Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

On 1 November 2012, Mwea Foundation formally filed a petition to the Supreme Court against the NIB, Kenya’s Attorney General and the Land Ministry. The Mwea Foundation has long advocated for Mwea rice farmers to be granted title deeds, and it believes this will be done if the court rules in their favour. The assailants also took the human rights defender’s phone and used it to call her colleagues in an effort to intimidate them. At approximately 10:40pm, they called Victor Munene, the vice-chair of Mwea Foundation to tell him that they had his colleague Lydia Mukami and that they would come for him in due course. Later they called Paul Muchira, the Foundation’s treasurer, with the same message. They told Lydia Mukami to withdraw her petition by Monday, 3 June 2013; and that if she did not do so she would have only three options left: “a rope, a bullet or poison.” After an ordeal that lasted several hours the men abandoned Lydia Mukami in a bush, at the break of dawn. From there, she had to walk for about three hours before she reached a main road, where she was directed to a police station located in a small town called Yatta. The human rights defender has made statements at both the Yatta and Thika police stations. Front Line Defenders issued an urgent appeal on the threats and intimidation against the leaders of Mwea Foundation, including Lydia Mukami, on 27 May 2013 (http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/22870) .

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