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Key witnesses in journalist's murder go into hiding amid death threats

(Media Institute/IFEX) - Attempts to unravel the murder of journalist Francis Nyaruri have run into problems after key witnesses began receiving death threats. The family lawyer, Andrew Mandi (who practises in the Nyamira District of Kenya's Nyanza Province) and Robert Natwoli (a police officer in Nyamira) have gone into hiding after they were threatened with death.

The lawyer has been pushing for the arrest of the suspected murderers of Nyaruri, who was found dead in late January 2009. A senior police officer, who has been offering protection to the lawyer and was instrumental in the recent arrest of two key suspects, is also allegedly being threatened to drop case.

Senior police officers in the district are suspected of having masterminded the killing and are seen as the ones stalling the investigations into the murder.

On 3 May, the Media Institute and other press groups wrote to the Attorney General demanding an immediate investigation of the murder. The protest was followed by a demonstration to mark World Press Freedom Day.

Since then, two people have been arrested in connection with the murder. Numerous threats have been issued against the officers investigating the case by their senior colleagues (names withheld for security reasons). One of the officers is said to have filed a complaint to the Police Commissioner about the threat on his life but that has not helped the situation. Instead it has worsened.

The officers who arrested the suspects are being monitored and restricted from performing their duties as threats on their lives intensify.

The Media Institute calls for protection of the late journalist's family, the lawyer and witnesses, and a thorough investigation of the murder to end this impunity in the Kenya police.

The Institute is reliably informed that witnesses with crucial evidence on extra judicial killings by police and the Kisungusungu militia in Kisii and Nyamira are being threatened with elimination, which is an affront to justice.

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