Kenya Activists Slain
Karel Prinsloo  /  AP
Kenyan students on Friday look at the car in which two activists were gunned down the previous night outside the University of Nairobi. The men were en route to a meeting with a human rights group when they were shot at close range in heavy traffic.
updated 3/6/2009 3:46:11 PM ET 2009-03-06T20:46:11

Kenya's top human rights group charged Friday that the slaying of two activists who investigated extrajudicial killings was part of a pattern of assassinations of people who made allegations about police death squads.

Oscar Kamau Kingara and John Paul Oulu were shot at close range Thursday night while their car was stuck in traffic near the University of Nairobi.

Kingara was the head of the Oscar Foundation, which had released a report on extrajudicial killings and the disappearance of thousands of Kenyans in police custody. Oulu was the foundation's communications and advocacy director. The two activists had met last month with Philip Alston, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and provided him with testimony on police killings in Nairobi and Central Province.

They were on their way to meet with a senior member of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights when they were attacked, Alston said, calling for an independent probe into the killing.

A former police driver was shot dead last year after he told the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights he had witnessed over 50 suspects being executed by police. And in January, a Kenyan journalist who said he had been threatened by officers after writing about police malpractice was found decapitated in a forest.

No suspects have been charged.

Pattern to killings?
"It is obvious that there is a pattern," said Florence Simbiri-Jaoko, chairwoman of the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. The victims "are linked by the fact that they were doing work on extrajudicial killings."

Alston, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, last week accused the Kenyan police of running death squads and recommended the firing of the police commissioner and the attorney general.

"It is extremely troubling when those working to defend human rights in Kenya can be assassinated in broad daylight in the middle of Nairobi ... there is an especially strong onus on the Kenyan Government to arrange for an independent investigation into these killings given the circumstances surrounding them," Alston said.

A student was shot dead in a riot sparked by the killings, when angry students shouting Alston's name hurled bottles and stones at police.

Police and students protesting the deaths clashed for the second day Friday. The students from the University of Nairobi lit bonfires and stopped traffic on a road near the president's house before officers pushed them back by firing tear gas.

Police commissioner Hussein Ali said the police were investigating all possibilities regarding the killings of the activists. He said three officers had been arrested over death of the student.

Front for gang?
Oulu and Kingara were killed hours after government spokesman Alfred Mutua accused the Oscar Foundation of being a front for a notorious Kenyan gang, the Mungiki, known for beheading its victims.

"Our government has decided not only to kill its people but to kill the brightest brains that it needs for the next generation," said Clive Ombane, whose brother was shot by a stray bullet when police and students clashed at Nairobi University dormitories. "We have a future; we have to protect it at all costs."

Student leader Dan Mwangi asked why it had been so easy to carry out the assassination outside the university dormitories, which are less than a minute's walk from the president's heavily guarded house.

"We will not accept to be intimidated by the police," Mwangi said.

There is mounting criticism of Kenya's coalition government for failing to tackle the poverty, corruption and ethnic tensions that contributed to last year's postelection riots in which more than 1,000 Kenyans were killed. Instead the government has been riven by infighting and rocked by a series of financial scandals.

The Mungiki gang presents itself as a quasi-religious organization whose members are drawn from Kenya's biggest tribe, the Kikuyu, whose Mau-Mau freedom fighters battled to rid colonial Kenya of the British. But in recent years the gang has built up extensive protection rackets and contains several rival factions.

Some analysts believe the gang was strengthened during Kenya's first democratic elections in 2002, when politicians looking for hired muscle provided money and weapons.

The government launched a crackdown against it in 2007 after several police officers were beheaded. But the postelection clashes in early 2008 provided the gang with the opportunity to reinvent itself as an ethnic militia dedicated to defending the members of the president's Kikuyu tribe against the members of the then-opposition leader's Luo tribe.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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