Lawyers urge ICC to drop charges against Kenyatta

Should the crimes against humanity charges against Uhuru Kenyatta stand, he will become the first-ever president to face the ICC shortly after taking office. (AFP)

Should the crimes against humanity charges against Uhuru Kenyatta stand, he will become the first-ever president to face the ICC shortly after taking office. (AFP)

At a hearing scheduled for Monday at the Hague-based court, a three-judge bench will notably hear defence lawyer Steven Kay's request to scrap his client's July trial date and send the case back to the International Criminal Court's (ICC) pre-trial chambers.

The case is being closely watched in Kenya and around the world after ICC prosecutors a week ago asked to drop all charges against Kenyatta's co-accused, top civil servant Francis Muthaura.

Should the five crimes against humanity charges – related to Kenya's post-2007 election violence – against Kenyatta stand, he will become the first-ever president to have to fly off to the Hague to face a trial that could last at least two years shortly after taking office.

Kenyatta (51) was proclaimed Kenya's president just over a week ago following the first elections after the east African country's deadly post-poll violence five years ago in which ICC prosecutors say some 1 100 people were killed.

Prosecutors suspect Kenyatta of having paid the Mungiki, a sect-like criminal gang notorious for beheading its victims, to lead reprisal attacks and defend the Kikuyu community when violence ripped through Kenya following disputed polls in late 2007.

'Crucial evidence'
Kenyatta rejected the allegations. His defence argued that a statement by a prosecution witness, called OTP-4, who later recanted testimony, lay at the heart of the case.

"The evidence they [the prosecution] are seeking to rely on in the case against Uhuru Kenyatta is utterly flawed," Kay said in a statement released by Kenyatta's party ahead of the hearing.

A pre-trial judge's decision in January last year to confirm the charges against Kenyatta, son of Kenya's founding father Jomo Kenyatta, was based on the "crucial evidence" by OTP-4 – who placed the top politician at meetings with Mungiki members.

But witness OTP-4 was discredited with ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda dropping all charges against Kenyatta's co-accused, former civil servant Muthaura on March 11 as a direct result.

It was the first time ICC prosecutors decided to drop a case since the world's first permanent independent court began operating in 2002.

Kenyatta – one of Africa's richest and most powerful men – and Muthaura were charged for their alleged involvement in fomenting the wave of deadly 2007-08 violence.

Displaced persons
More than 663 000 people were displaced in Kenya's Rift Valley after fights between rival supporters, prosecutors said, when politically motivated riots soon turned into ethnic killings, which in turn sparked further reprisals.

The clashes destroyed Kenya's image as a beacon of stability in the region, hurt its tourism industry and exposed long-simmering ethnic rifts among its population.

In Kenya on Monday attention however was focused on another court case, a legal challenge filed on Saturday by outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga alleging the March 4 polls that elected Kenyatta were rigged.

There was little or no mention of the ICC case made in Kenya's newspapers, which instead focused on Kenyatta's appeal on Sunday for people to "pray and maintain peace" as he led church prayers on the Indian Ocean coast. – AFP

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