Kenyan police officers Stephen Chebulet and Fredrick Leliman suspected of killing human rights lawyer, Willie Kimani, his client and their driver. Photo: Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Johannesburg - Human rights activists are demanding an urgent probe in Kenya into last week's murder of three men, including a human rights activists.

All three were allegedly killed by police. Amnesty International (AI), together with 34 Kenyan and international human rights organisations, on Monday released a media statement urging the Kenyan authorities to urgently investigate the killings and demanded that those responsible be brought to justice. “The Kenyan authorities must urgently investigate the killing last week of three men, including a human rights lawyer, and ensure that those found responsible are held to account in fair trials,” read the statement.

“The shocking abduction, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings of lawyer Willie Kimani, as well as his client and their taxi driver, whose bodies were recovered from a river 73 kilometres north-east of Nairobi, should be cause for alarm over the state of human rights and rule of law in Kenya, especially in the face of reports suggesting that police officers were involved.

“These extrajudicial killings are a chilling reminder that the hard-won right to seek justice for human rights violations is under renewed attack,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) must initiate and lead prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into the abduction, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial execution of these three people with a view to bringing criminal charges against all those reasonably suspected of responsibility,” said Wanyeki.

The bodies of Willie Kimani, who was employed by International Justice Mission, a Christian legal aid charity, his client Josphat Mwendwa, a motorcycle taxi rider, and Joseph Muiruri, a taxi driver, were recovered on June 30, 2016 from Ol Donyo Sabuk River in Machakos County, eastern Kenya, a week after the three went missing in circumstances suggesting they were victims of enforced disappearance.

Initial reports immediately suggested that Administration Police (AP) officers, one of whom Mwendwa was defending himself against in court that day, may have abducted them.

The three were last seen as they left Mavoko Law Courts, in Machakos County, on 23 June 2016, where they had attended a hearing of a traffic case against Mwendwa.

Police officers from Syokimau AP Camp laid traffic charges against Mwendwa in December 2015, months after he had lodged a complaint with IPOA against a senior officer at the camp. Mwendwa alleged the officer unlawfully shot him in April 2015 as he dismounted a motorcycle after the officers had waved him down to stop. Human rights organisations in Kenya have evidence indicating the three men were briefly held at Syokimau AP Camp soon after they were abducted.

The men's whereabouts after that remained unknown until their bodies were recovered seven days later.

“That these killings are coming before numerous similar allegations in other parts of the country have been adequately investigated is a matter of serious concern of the willingness of the Kenyan authorities to stem cases of police killings,” said Henry Maina, regional director at Article 19, Eastern Africa.

“That a lawyer working for an international organisation and his client could be abducted and disappeared in broad-day light only to be found dead is a matter that cannot be taken lightly,” said Maina.

Kamau Ngugi, National Coordinator at Kenya's National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders added: “A transparent process of investigating and prosecuting those responsible is what is now needed to reassure shocked Kenyans of their safety and restore their faith in the national.”

Kenya's international partners - in particular Sweden, the UK and USA - that are currently providing financial support to the Kenya police units implicated in extrajudicial killings, should urge Kenyan authorities to ensure effective investigations into these killings and prosecution of those responsible.

Supporting Kenyan security agencies without insisting on accountability for human rights violations makes donor countries complicit in those violations.

The rights bodies said they planned demonstrations in Nairobi and other parts of Kenya on Monday to protest the murders.

African News Agency