30 Innocent People Arrested in Kenyan Slum, Finally Declared Free

Nelson attended the hearing with his grandmother and mother, above. He was one of the boys arrested and charged with arson. He spent 11 days in prison before his family was able to pay the bail amount to get him home.
Nelson attended the hearing with his grandmother and mother, above. He was one of the boys arrested and charged with arson. He spent 11 days in prison before his family was able to pay the bail amount to get him home.
Jane, a grandmother, was arrested in her own home. Her two grandchildren spent the night in the police station that night, and then next day she was sent to prison.
Jane, a grandmother, was arrested in her own home. Her two grandchildren spent the night in the police station that night, and then next day she was sent to prison.
David and his mother talk with IJM Advocate Wamaitha outside the courthouse, after all the charges were dropped. David, 16, was one of the innocent boys rounded up in the random sweep of arrests.
David and his mother talk with IJM Advocate Wamaitha outside the courthouse, after all the charges were dropped. David, 16, was one of the innocent boys rounded up in the random sweep of arrests.

NAIROBI, KENYA – Four Kenyan boys are now free after spending the last three months behind bars – accused of a crime they did not commit. They were among 30 random people, including a grandmother and several young parents, who were rounded up by police just before the new year.

The Sweep

Jane was startled that day when police burst into her tiny home in the slum where she lives. She was watching her two grandchildren when the police demanded they all leave immediately. The children were forced to spend the night with her at the police station. The next day, police let Jane's grandchildren go. But Jane was transferred to a Nairobi prison.

Jane was scared, but she remained strong. "I knew God would help me because I was innocent," she said.

Others imprisoned in the same "kifagio," or sweep of arrests, in the large slum were picked up just as randomly. Sixteen-year-old David was at a youth group meeting when he was arrested. A young father named Edward was arrested at work.

"Later at the police station we found out we were all from the same area," Edward said, adding that they were all simply confused at first: "We didn't know what we were being arrested for."

Police were searching for criminals who had started a fire on December 23, but these arrests just one week later seemed totally random.

Defending the Innocent

When IJM found out about their plight, lawyers worked quickly to interview the innocent prisoners and find any evidence related to the case. But there was no evidence, and no witnesses came forward to link any of the 30 accused men, women and boys to the crime.

In the meantime, IJM advocates asked the court to reduce the amount set for bail, so that the innocent people would not have to wait out the bogus case from behind bars. Two dozen people – including Jane, David and Edward – were able to pay bail and return home. But six others – including four boys under 18 and two women – could not afford bail. They awaited the trial from prison.

On April 2, 2013, IJM staff squeezed into a small courtroom with all 30 of the accused. It was quiet as the judge read out the news: There was not enough evidence to keep them imprisoned. The charges were dropped. Their names were cleared. They were free to go.

Getting Back To Life

As the good news spread out from the courtroom, the large group gathered to celebrate. IJM staff embraced the freed clients and their family members, and answered questions about what would happen next.

"I want to get back to my life," Edward said. He smiled widely, rejoicing that he would return home to his wife and new baby as a free man.

While the celebration of freedom will continue, damage has already been done. Several of the client's businesses have suffered. Insecurity lingers that they could be picked up in another sweep, just as unexpectedly as the first time. IJM Kenya social workers will keep following up with the families, to help them process these traumatic events and as prepare for a strong future. 

Africa, Field Office, Illegal Detention