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MRG deeply concerned about attacks on Ogiek activists in Kenya and calls for immediate investigation of incidents of harassment

3 February 2014

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) condemns the recent attack on a key Ogiek activist Adam Cheruiyot (not his real name) and his family after he resisted eviction from his land. Local police have also threatened him.

Cheruiyot (not his real name) was involved in a land disagreement with a private individual on 26 January 2014 in Ngongongeri village, Njoro District, Nakuru County. According to the Ogiek People’s Development Programme (OPDP), a local NGO working to secure the rights of the community, a confrontation erupted when the other person tried to evict Cheruiyot with the apparent permission of the local police from land that Cheruiyot claims ancestrally belongs to him.

The Ogiek – with the assistance of MRG and OPDP – are currently pursuing a legal case challenging the systematic denial of their human rights by the Kenyan government. The case alleges violations of the Ogiek’s rights to non-discrimination, property, natural resources, development, religion and culture under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This case is currently pending before the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights (‘the African Court’) and is due to be heard later this year. Cheruyot has given affidavit evidence about past harassment to the African Court as part of the Ogiek’s ongoing case and may be called as a witness in the upcoming hearing. The African Court has issued an order for the Kenyan government to halt any actions that may prejudice the case.

‘Targeting minority rights activists in this way is unacceptable. Not only does such behaviour violate the Ogiek’s fundamental human rights, but it also directly contravenes the provisional measures order issued by the African Court,’ says Lucy Claridge, MRG’s Head of Law.

This is not the first time there has been a deliberately orchestrated move to single out key community activists with threats, intimidation and harassment. In March 2011, six people broke into James Rana’s home around 2:30 am and attacked him with machetes, knives and other tools, causing serious injuries to his head, hands and legs. Within the same period, a group of people attacked and abused Rosaline Kuresoi, 34, a local land and minority women rights activist, on her way home from Njoro market.

Daniel Kobei, the OPDP Executive Director, said he was not ‘shocked that police is now siding with the lawbreakers.’ Kobei added, ‘This intimidation and threats are meant to corner us into submission so that we give up on our quest for justice and equity. We shall not engage in violence but will never give up’.

In this recent incident, it is alleged that four individuals surveyed the land and started to burn maize stalks growing there. They threatened and harassed Cheruiyot and his wife, destroyed their home and required that they vacate the land.

The home of Adam Cheruiyot, detroyed during the recent attack.

The confrontation attracted other persons including 50 non-Ogiek who arrived armed with bows and arrows, behaving in a menacing manner. Cheruiyot was supported in his refusal to leave the land by other local Ogiek, including Peter Kiplangat (not his real name).

When Cheruiyot’s sister subsequently reported the threats, intimidation and harassment and trespass on their property to the local police station at Njoro, she was arrested, held overnight and charged with the crime of trespass. Although released the following day, having paid cash bail of KES 10,000 (approx 115 USD), the charges remain pending.

On the morning of 27 January 2014, the local police officer came to investigate the incident. Once the officer had left the area, the private individual returned to Cheruiyot’s land and again tried to take possession. The local Tugen who were present caused a scuffle, during which the other person was shot with an arrow.

Investigating the aftermath of these incidents, the local OCPD police commander in Njoro accused Cheruiyot and Kiplangat of attacking the other person. The police commander also reportedly made threats against Cheruyot’s life, calling for him to be shot, and demanded that Cheruiyot and his family leave their lands.

Many other members of the Ogiek community have reportedly gone into hiding in the forest after the threats from police.