Four politicians have been arrested after claiming that mass graves had been found in northern Kenya. The claims were later retracted but the four now face possible charges for inciting violence.
The arrest of four politicians came just days after they had claimed that a mass grave containing at least 12 bodies had been found in Mandera county. Three members of parliament from the region and Senator Billow Kerrow were picked up by Flying Squad officers on Thursday morning, the Daily Nation reported.
The four were taken to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters for questioning. Kenyan sources said they were being investigated for incitement to violence and giving false information. The arrests came one day after the four had apologised for claiming that mass graves (plural) had been found in Mandera. Kerrow said in fact only one body had been found.
“We came to Mandera following reports by some leaders here that some graves had been found. We have spent two days digging out the scene and we confirm that only one body was there. We regret the anxiety caused by the report we issued earlier,” Kerrow said.
On Monday, more than 10 lawmakers from northern Kenya accused the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) of extrajudicial killings following allegations of the discovery of the mass grave in a predominantly Muslim area. On Tuesday KDF issued a statement saying they were “not involved in any way with the disappearance of people or extra judicial killings in Mandera or anywhere in the country.”
The lawmakers from the north had also accused the government of doing nothing to deal with extra-judicial killings, which they claimed were tied to the war on terrorism.
Confusion over claims and retractions
On Wednesday Mandera leaders snubbed a tour by opposition leader Raila Odinga who came to visit the family of Isnina Musa Sheikh whose body was found in a shallow grave on Sunday. He challenged the government to tell Kenyans what caused the woman’s death.
DW’s Nairobi correspondent James Shimanyula says Kerrow and the three other lawmakwers arrested failed to verify the information about mass graves before making the allegations that were later found to be false.
When news broke of the alleged mass graves in Mandera, the thoughts of many Kenyans immediately went to the attack on a university in nearby Garissa in April 2015, Shimanyula said. 148 people, most of them students, were killed. Militant Islamist group al-Shabab claimed responsibility.
Now that the claims of mass graves have been retracted “people are confused in the villages, people are panicking” Shimanyula said. “People don’t want to hear about people being killed or Muslims being intimidated. They just want to see peace prevail in their region.”
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights last month published an interim report on its investigation into enforced disappearances in which over 100 Kenyans –mostly Muslims- are alleged to have disappeared at the hands of security forces.
The Commission said that Kenya’s efforts to tackle a wide array of security threats had been marred by ongoing patterns of serious human rights violations by security forces, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, and torture.
The turn of events also caused a flurry of comment on social media, ranging from comments like “Time to start taming loose tongues” to “This is an outrage! [They were arrested] after they apologized?”