A story I wrote about some of our illegal detention clients:
Imagine that you are a young man in your early twenties, from a small rural town. You lost your parents a few years ago and you have younger siblings. You want to be responsible. You want to do the right thing by them, so you take a job in the big city, working in a hotel. The pay is not amazing, but there’s enough. You can get by send small amounts to your grandparents to help with your younger brother and sister’s schooling.
Arriving early at work one morning, your manager asks you to go and purchase milk for the hotel at the nearest shop. You’re just about to pay for the milk when a group of police officers approach you. “Come outside” they order you tersely. You have nothing to hide, so of-course you comply with their request. They begin shoving you, interrogating you. “Where is the television set? You’re a thief and you know it!” What are they talking about? You have no idea about a television set, or a robbery at that fancy hotel outside of town. “Give us kito kidogo, something small and we’ll let you off. ” Your pockets are empty. The only money you have left is a few coins for bus-fare back to work. “Foolish, man! You’re under arrest for Robbery with Violence.” Hold up a minute. What? Did you just hear them right? You protest your innocence, but to no avail. They’re after somebody and as far as they’re concerned, it’s you. They bundle you into the police car and you are taken to the station. Before you know it, you pummeled with more questions… and fists… and a baton. After a few days of this hell, you are brought before the court along with three other men whom you have never met before. You’re shackled, led back to the holding cells and then transported to prison.
That was over a year ago. And you’re still there.
Does this story sound outrageous? Almost fantastical? Well it’s definitely outrageous, but it is a true story of our client Polycarp*. Just over a year ago he was a free man, struggling to make ends meet for himself and his siblings in the village. Now, he is behind bars for a crime he did not commit. His family lives far from Nairobi and cannot afford to come visit him. He’s been charged with three other men, whom he did not know before now. Their stories were similar – on the very same morning, all four men were minding their own business in different parts of Nairobi and its outskirts. They are arbitrarily arrested and their lives as they so know it come to an abrupt end. Caleb*, was walking his young child to school when this happened. Bruno* was collecting his goods for sale. Moses* was at a bus stop, heading to work. They were all pressed for bribes, but none of them are carrying enough cash. They are roughed up, beaten and imprisoned for a crime they know nothing about.
A few weeks earlier, there was an armed robbery of a hotel just outside Nairobi. Armed thieves scaled a wall, blinded some of the staff with flashlights and proceeded to tie them up, rob them and then rob the hotel of over Ksh 60,000 (US$645) worth of cash and goods. Several workers were injured and even hospitalized for a couple of months. Wanting to be seen as taking a tough stance on crime, the police decided that May 3rd was the day to make arrests. No real investigations and zero evidence they convinced themselves that Polycarp, Caleb, Moses and Bruno were the culprits.
The four men’s situation looked bleak and from their standpoint, it still is… mostly. Visiting them in prison last week, the pain was obvious. These men are separated from their families. They have been humiliated and demoralized. Their situation is just not fair.
But there is hope. It came in the form of two lawyers from International Justice Mission, who heard their stories and were convinced of their innocence. In May 2011, IJM received the referral and has been representing them in court ever since. Whilst it is unclear when their case will end, these men are encouraged. There are people on the outside who care about their welfare, are fighting for them and working hard to set them free.
But there are many in prison, just like Polycarp, Caleb, Moses and Bruno. Many children, who haven’t seen their fathers in one, two or even three years and they don’t know why. Many hard-working men and women, who because they are poor, are easily victimized. That is why the fight must continue. We must continue to highlight situations like these. We want the system to change so that the rights of Polycarp, Caleb, Moses and Bruno are protected and not violated.
*Pseudonyms to protect the client.