NAIROBI, KENYA – After spending over two years in a Nairobi jail – falsely imprisoned for a crime they never committed – Benson, Victor and Francis were finally freed last month.
Two years ago, a police officer was attacked and had his rifle stolen by assailants he could not identify. The other police officers who had been with him at the time of the robbery were determined to save face and quickly report that the crime was solved.
Benson and Victor were the first two men who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The officers stopped the two innocent men on the street without explanation, handcuffed them and took them to the station. Neither Benson nor Victor had ever seen the assaulted police officer in question. Suddenly, the bewildered and innocent men were being accused of attacking him, even as they received repeated blows themselves.
A few days later, a third man, Francis, was arrested and accused of the same crime. The police cited his nickname, Boi, as the evidence connecting him to the violent robbery – apparently, the officer who was attacked recalled someone shouting Boi, a very common nickname in Kenya.
The three men were accused of Robbery with Violence, a crime which carries a death sentence in Kenya. Day after day they languished in prison for a crime they had not committed. Night after night, they slept shoulder to shoulder with other men in a single, overcrowded cell. Some were hardcore criminals; others were like them – innocent men who had not committed a crime.
As the trial began, the police officers presented evidence of the assault. None of the evidence offered actually identified a specific attacker, most certainly not Benson, Victor nor Francis. But the three men, unknown to each other before they were imprisoned together for the same crime, could not afford a lawyer to push the case. And so they waited as the trial dragged on month after month, hearing after rescheduled hearing, shuffled back and forth from the court to the prison.
IJM Kenya lawyers finally learned of the case after the men had languished in jail for months. They pushed the case to conclusion, exposing the dearth of evidence and clearing the names of the falsely accused men. After 850 days in the prison, the judge acquitted Benson, Victor and Francis and released them from custody.
Benson, Victor and Francis are now free, and IJM aftercare staff will continue to support them as they rebuild their families and return to work.