Busia, Kenya - The trial of a young man accused of carrying out the gang-rape of a schoolgirl - and who was made to cut grass as punishment - opened on Tuesday in western Kenya.
The suspect, who is charged with gang-rape and grievous bodily harm, tried to cover his face as he appeared under tight police security, according to an AFP reporter in the courtroom in the town of Busia.
As the suspect is himself a minor, reporters and the public were ordered to leave the court after prosecution lawyers asked for the hearing to be held in private.
Worldwide outrage over the alleged rapists' lenient punishment last year prompted more than 1.7 million people to sign a petition demanding justice.
The 16-year-old victim, known by the pseudonym “Liz”, was reportedly attacked, beaten and then raped by six men as she returned from her grandfather's funeral in western Kenya in June 2013.
The gang dumped her, bleeding and unconscious, in a deep sewage ditch.
She suffered a broken back, caused either by the beating or by being hurled down into the pit, as well as serious internal injuries from the rape.
The case made global headlines after it emerged that three of the alleged rapists whom Liz identified were ordered by police to cut grass around the police station as punishment.
“For me the opening of this trial marks a beginning of a new chapter - and victory - after a long struggle,” said Mary Makokha, a local civil rights activist who has been a key leader campaigning to stop rape in the area.
“I hope this opens doors to other voiceless girls who are vulnerable and may suffer the same cause,” she added.
Rape is a serious problem in Kenya, but is seldom taken seriously by the police, rights groups say.
Police chief David Kimaiyo has cast doubt on Liz's testimony, saying in November that the time between her screams for help and villagers coming to her rescue was “too short for six assailants to have gang-raped her”.
But the public prosecutor later ordered the suspects to be charged with gang-rape.
The other suspects are reported to be on the run, with the public prosecutor ordering they be “apprehended and brought to justice without further delay”. - Sapa-AFP