Calls for activist's release ahead of Kampala bombing trial

The 19 people accused in the 2010 bombing in Kampala, Uganda, will begin standing trial Monday. Among them is a human rights activist who was arrested when he came to help the accused.

On Monday, the Ugandan government is expected to begin pre-trial proceedings against 19 people who allegedly played a role in the July 10, 2010, bombing of two restaurants in Kampala, Uganda.

A Somali militant group, Al Shabab, claimed responsibility for the twin bombings, saying they were punishment for Uganda’s participation in an African Union peacekeeping force supporting the fragile Somali transitional government in Mogadishu.

One of those accused is Al-Amin Kimathi, a human rights activist whose only role in the case seems to be that he showed up in Kampala to advocate on behalf of the other 18 suspects. Mr. Kimathi and Kenyan human rights lawyer Mbugua Mureithi were arrested on Sept. 15, 2010, shortly after arriving in Kampala to represent the other suspects. Although Mr. Mureithi was released a few days later, Kimathi, together with the other suspects, has been held for nearly a year, with no charges pressed.

In a joint press release today, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reprieve and the East, and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project called for the Ugandan government to release Kimathi if it cannot bring serious charges against him.

“Kimathi seems to have been sitting in jail for a year for calling attention to injustices by Kenya and Uganda,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If Uganda can’t show that it has a serious case against him, it should free him and drop the charges immediately.”

As the Monitor pointed out in a Jan. 21, 2011, story from Nairobi, the arrests of the 18 other suspects occurred with what appears to be substantial cooperation between Kenyan police and Ugandan security forces and prisoners were transferred from Kenya to Uganda without normal due process laws or formal extradition proceedings. Some of the accused complained that they were tortured during interrogation, and Mr. Kimathi’s family worry that the activist may be suffering from ill health.

Prosecutors in the case say that evidence against the accused will be released in pre-trial hearings on Monday, but Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve, suggests that arresting Kimathi may be more about muzzling the activist than pursuing those responsible for the attack.

"The fact that the Ugandan government has failed to disclose any evidence against Al-Amin Kimathi, after detaining him for nearly one year, suggests that the criminal process is being used as a cloak behind which to silence an effective human rights defender,” said Ms. Algar in the statement. “If the Ugandan government does not immediately disclose evidence, Kimathi should be released as a matter of urgency to get on with his important work."

The Monitor will continue to cover these proceedings and provide updates when possible.

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