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Media warned against exposing court witnesses

16 January 2015, 16:32 Samuel Kisika

Nairobi – A witness protection agency has warned the media against exposing court witnesses or participants because it subjects them to life threats and intimidation to withdraw their evidence.

The Witness Protection Agency (WPA) Director, Alice Ondiek said any person or journalist who discloses the identity or location of a protected witness violates the Agency’s Act, Section 30 and the responsible person is liable for imprisonment to a term not exceeding seven years.

“The media has a role to play in ensuring that the identity of witnesses is not disclosed and the press has been a challenge to the agency in the exposure of witnesses,” said Ondiek.

“The Witness Protection Agency has noted with great concern reports on threats and intimidation to persons in possession of important information for cooperating with the prosecution and other law enforcement agencies both locally and internationally,” she lamented.

Ondiek also cited from the Penal Code Act CAP 63, Section 117 of the Kenyan Laws where she warned that it is punishable offence for anyone to obstruct the due course of justice by dissuading, hindering or preventing any witness from appearing and giving evidence before a court of law.

“Equally, Section 10 of the International Crimes Act of Kenya 2008 makes it an offence for any person who willfully attempts in any manner to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice by dissuading or attempting to dissuade a person by threats, bribes or other corrupt means from giving evidence,” said Ondiek.

Regarding the mysterious murder of Meshack Yebei, an ICC witness, Ondiek said he was not under the agency’s protection programme and distanced herself from any possible blame for failure of providing full protection to him.
“Yebei was not under the Witness Protection Agency programme. However, we appeal to his relatives who may face threats as investigations go on to seek protection from the agency,” said Ondiek.

Also read: Slain ICC witness was not on witness protection programme

She added that her agency also could not protect Yebei because WPA was formed in 2008 when he was already under the ICC protection programme. However, Ondiek promised to work in collaboration with The Hague-based court in protecting witnesses.

She reiterated that the agency analytically carries out risk assessment  of the witness under threat before putting them in the programme where they benefit from physical and armed protection, relocation, change in identity, in camera hearings, use of pseudo names, reduction of identifying information, use of video link, distortion and obscuring the identity of the witnesses.

Ondiek further appealed on the public to report any cases of witnesses being threatened or intimidated to any nearby WPA office or by Toll Free Line 0800 720 460. They are also advised to report to nearby law enforcement agencies such as the police, the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions, other relevant Commissions such as the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the National Gender and Equality Commission among others, who shall then inform WPA for immediate response.

WPA is mandated by Law to set up a Witness Protection Programme to protect threatened, vulnerable and intimidated witnesses and family members from harm because of cooperating with the law enforcement agencies.
The Kenyan WPA was established in 2008 and is the only second witness protection agency in Africa after South Africa.

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