Kenya ICC trial witness 'outed' online

2013-09-18 20:29
Kenyan Vice President William Ruto. (AFP)

Kenyan Vice President William Ruto. (AFP)

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Nairobi - A woman who appeared as a protected witness in the international trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto has been named by local media and bloggers, prompting warnings that the case could collapse.

The woman testified to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday, and was referred to only as "Witness P0536", her face pixellated and voice distorted in order to protect her identity.

But within hours of her harrowing testimony, which was carried live on several Kenyan television stations, viewers began speculating on her real identity on Twitter and other sites.

By Wednesday, scores of posts on Twitter gave her supposed real name, while one Kenyan blogger and the website of a tabloid newspaper even published photographs of the witness. Several comments also denounced the woman as a "liar".

"Now that a witness has been identified it will be difficult to assure others that they are their family members will be safe. And in Kenya, it's not just the nuclear family: there are aunts, uncles, cousins," said Beryl Aidi, a spokesperson for the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, an independent NGO.

"Witnesses are bound to feel that their family and their extended family may be in danger and might want to withdraw," she said.

The witness broke down in the Hague court as she recounted how a singing, machete-wielding mob of "around 3 000" youths had trapped some 2 000 people hiding inside a church and set it ablaze.

The prosecution alleges the massacre was part of a plan of ethnic violence orchestrated by Ruto to "satisfy his thirst for power" after disputed 2007 elections. More than 1 000 people died in the post-poll unrest.

According to a Western source, who asked not to be identified, around one-third of the witnesses originally scheduled to testify for the prosecution in the Ruto case have pulled out.

"The risk of collapse is credible," the source said.

Read more on:    international criminal court  |  william ruto  |  kenya  |  east africa

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