New Year Begins in Freedom for Illegally Detained Man

NAIROBI, KENYA – Released on New Year’s Eve after 16 months of incarceration in Nairobi’s Industrial Remand Prison, 42-year-old Peter began 2010 a free man. Arrested in 2008 on false charges of robbery with violence, Peter had faced the death sentence if found guilty – all for picking up a discarded coat he found on the side of the road.

Even after being incarcerated for over a year, Peter, who is mentally handicapped, did not fully comprehend the severity of the situation. When asked by an IJM attorney why he was in prison, Peter replied, “Because I saw a coat along the pathway, picked it up and wore it.”

The coat Peter had found on the pathway more than a year prior had been stolen by six armed robbers from a 76-year-old man. The robbers raided the man’s home at midnight, taking several items, including the coat – but at some point, the thieves apparently discarded the jacket on the roadside. When Peter, who often looks for discarded items along the roads of his neighborhood, found it, he picked it up and started wearing it – excited by the find.

When the original owner of the coat saw Peter wearing it, he reported it to the police as evidence – making it clear that Peter was not among the thieves who had stolen the coat from him.

Nonetheless, the police quickly arrested and charged Peter with the crime of robbery with violence, a non-bailable offense for which he would receive the death penalty if found guilty. He was brought to remand prison, where he was forced to wait all day, every day, for news on the charges he still did not fully comprehend.

Peter’s court case began, but his family could not afford a lawyer. The police lost the jacket so they repeatedly encouraged the prosecutor to request that the trial be delayed to a later date. Peter’s case dragged on for several months – and he remained in prison, confused, alone and innocent. His family was desperate for his release.

Peter had been held in jail for a year by the time the case was brought to the attention of the IJM Kenya legal team. After IJM Kenya took the case, the jacket’s owner approached IJM and insisted that he did not want to pursue the case, as he knew that Peter was not among the robbers who had stolen it from him. IJM Kenya Field Office Director Joseph Kibugu quickly brought this information to the attention of the Magistrate and other officials with the authority to facilitate prompt release – but it was insisted that the charges stand, and that Peter continue to wait in jail for his trial.

So IJM persevered in fighting for Peter – for three months, Joseph Kibugu pursued the case, trying every possible avenue to secure the freedom of this wrongly imprisoned man.

Justice came on December 31, 2009: Through Joseph’s courtroom advocacy and the clear statements of the complainant in open court, Peter was acquitted of all charges. He was released from the jail where he had waited for 16 months. His overjoyed siblings were thrilled to be able to bring Peter to see his elderly mother – who had not been able to afford the bus ticket to see Peter while he was in prison.

IJM Kenya’s aftercare staff will work with Peter’s family to ensure that Peter receives the attention he needs from a government mental health facility, and will also help Peter secure a stable source of income. For IJM’s Director of Operations in Africa, Philip Langford, it’s a victory with deep significance: “I am so proud that our team demonstrated to all those watching – the magistrate, the courtroom spectators and the officials who abused their power – that Peter’s life is precious and absolutely worth the fight.”