(Mombasa, August 29, 2012) – The Kenyan government should establish an independent inquiry into the killing of Aboud Rogo, a controversial cleric, on August 27, 2012, and subsequent riots in Mombasa, Human Rights Watch said today.
Rogo, who was facing charges of illegal possession of weapons and recruiting for the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab, was shot to death in his car while he was driving outside Mombasa. Following his burial later in the afternoon of August 27, riots erupted across the Mombasa town center and continued on August 28. Cars were set alight, several churches were vandalized, and at least two people were killed. One was a prison officer working with the police to contain the riots and the other a civilian killed by rioters. Police told reporters that they arrested 22 people in connection with the riots.
“The killing of Aboud Rogo is a serious crime that needs speedy independent and impartial investigation,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “In the meantime, police should continue to stick within the law in confronting the riots sparked by Rogo’s death.”
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that an unmarked vehicle overtook the car Rogo was driving with six passengers, including his wife, on Malindi road on August 27 and that two gunmen opened fire at close range. Rogo was shot in the head and died at the scene. His wife was also shot and is in a hospital.
The riots were in the Majengo and Kisauni areas of Mombasa. At least 24 people were admitted to hospitals with injuries related to the unrest, with three people critically injured, media reported. Youths interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were protesting the suspected involvement of the Kenyan authorities in Rogo’s death.
Rogo’s killing follows the abductions and deaths earlier this year of several other people charged with recruitment and other offenses related to al-Shabaab.
In March, Samir Khan, who was also charged with possession of illegal firearms and recruiting for al-Shabaab, and his friend Mohammed Kassim were pulled from a public bus in Mombasa by men who stopped the bus and identified themselves as police officers, Khan’s lawyer, Mbugua Murethi, told Human Rights Watch. Khan’s body was found, badly mutilated, a few days later in Tsavo national park. Kassim’s whereabouts remain unknown. Kassim had previously been abducted in Nairobi in February, under unclear circumstances, but was released after his captors interrogated him. Police briefed journalists at the time, saying he had been arrested by the Anti Terror Police Unit, but they later denied arresting him.
Rogo had complained of police threats before his death and requested protection. On July 24, Rogo had reported to the police, the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights, and the court in which he was being tried for recruiting for al-Shabaab, that unknown assailants had attempted to abduct him and his co-accused Abubakar Shari Ahmed when they arrived in Nairobi for the court hearing. He swore an affidavit that men in civilian clothes who claimed to be police officers tried to force the two men into an unmarked car. He said that he and Ahmed had challenged the men to produce identification and that passers-by helped the two men resist being forced into the car.
Murethi, who is also Rogo’s lawyer, sought an assurance from the prosecution that the attempted abduction would be investigated and that Rogo’s security would be assured. The court ordered the Officer Commanding Station of Kamkunji police station to investigate. Murethi told Human Rights Watch that Rogo frequently expressed concern about being followed by police and spoke of threats from known police agents who he said told him that, “The state will find a way of dealing with you.” Rogo had requested that the case be transferred to Mombasa where he felt safer and where he was also facing other charges for illegal possession of weapons and explosives.
Rogo was on United States and United Nations sanctions lists for alleged support of al-Shabaab. In 2005 he was acquitted on murder charges related to the 2002 attack on a hotel in Mombasa, which killed 12 people.
According to the Mombasa-based human rights group Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) four people have disappeared after being arrested by the police during 2012. MUHURI and the Muslim Human Rights Forum (MHRF) have gathered accounts from witnesses who said that the abductors identified themselves as police officers before taking away Ngoy Moise Kayembe and Shani Marove Lydia in February and Musa Osodo and Jacob Musyoka Matheka in Molo in May.
Osodo was facing charges in a Mombasa court for membership of al-Shabaab and was one of six suspects charged with killing a police officer. Two of his co-defendants, Steven Mwandi Osaka and Jeremiah Onyango Okumu, disappeared in June, also after being pulled from a public bus in Mombasa by men in civilian clothes. They have not been seen since.
Police claim to be investigating Khan’s murder and the disappearance of the others.
“The abductions, disappearances, and in some cases murder of people who are thought to be linked to al-Shabaab is incredibly disturbing,” Lefkow said. “The Kenya police are facing a crisis of confidence in Mombasa. The government needs to act swiftly to investigate and prosecute those responsible for these crimes.”
The killing and the disappearances highlight the need for urgent completion of police reforms, including the setting up of the National Police Service Commission that is responsible for investigating the police, and that was supposed to be operational earlier this year, Human Rights Watch said.
The riots that began on August 27 continued throughout August 28. Two churches were attacked. One was set on fire and one was looted of electrical equipment. Shops and two cars were set on fire and burning tires placed in the road in several areas of town. Police engaged in running battles with rioters, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Prison officers were brought in as reinforcements. Twenty-four people were admitted to hospitals by the afternoon of August 28. The prison officer was killed and 12 others injured when youths threw a grenade at a patrol in the Kisauni area of Mombasa.
The deputy provincial police officer, second in command in Coast province, told Human Rights Watch that police were trying to contain the violence with “minimum force” but would not rule out the use of live ammunition. The UN standards on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials state that, “In the dispersal of violent assemblies, law enforcement officials may use firearms only when less dangerous means are not practicable and only to the minimum extent necessary.”
“So far the police appear to have exercised admirable restraint in confronting the insecurity in Mombasa,” Lefkow said. “Now they need to use precision and intelligence to pursue the people who caused the violence, avoiding indiscriminate actions.”