Uganda releases Kenyan human rights activist

Kenya's human rights activists welcomed Al-Amin Kimathi's release, but still worry about Kenyan and Ugandan security forces' use of rendition.

Edward Echwalu/Reuters
Human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi (l.), who heads the Muslim Human Rights Forum, is seen shortly after his release from custody by the High Court of Uganda in Kampala Sept. 12.

Kenyan human rights activist Al-Amin Kimathi was released today by Uganda's High Court after it was unable to establish any evidence linking Mr. Kimathi with the bombing of two Ugandan restaurants on July 10, 2010.

Mr. Kimathi, who was arrested with Kenyan lawyer Mbugua Mureithi on Sept. 15, 2010, was in Uganda to advocate for the rights of 18 other Kenyans arrested on terrorism charges in the bombing case. As The Christian Science Monitor wrote in January 2011, Mr. Mureithi was later released, but Kimathi was held, and may have experienced harsh interrogation at the hands of Ugandan police.

Today’s release of Kimathi and four other suspects – Dr. Ismail Kalule, Khalif Abdi Muhammed, Ismail Walusimbi, and Muhammed Abdow Adan – was greeted with relief by others in the Kenyan human rights community. The BBC quoted Kimathi’s brother as saying that Al-Amin was “vindicated.”

Even with Kimathi’s release, human rights activists are still likely to pay attention to Uganda’s case against the remaining 14 detainees since many of them were arrested by Kenyan police or intelligence services and shipped to Uganda without normal due process of extradition. The method, known as rendition, was made famous by US intelligence forces during its decade-long war on terror.

"There is great relief at the news for Al-Amin, but at the same time, the new bogeyman of Al Shabab is rearing its head throughout the Horn of Africa, and everyone who travels to the Horn of Africa is seen to have ties to that group," says Asim Qureshi, executive director of the London-based human rights group, Cage Prisoners. "What you are seeing now in Uganda is really the US rendition format, except that the Americans are keeping their hands clean and leaving the arrests to others."

"At first people who were sticklers for international law were willing to turn a blind eye to it, assuming that this was maybe an exception, like [Nazi war criminal] Adolf Eichmann," Mr. Qureshi adds, "but now it's become a malignant virus spreading through the world. It's going too far."

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