By Mukurima X Muriuki
31 years ago, Gibson Kamau Kuria filed a suit with the High Court alleging torture of his three clients: Mirugi Kariuki, Wanyiri Kihoro, and Mukaru Ng’ang’a. The three had been in jail for varying periods, having been arrested for standing up to the then autocratic leadership of president Moi.
No sooner had Kuria filed the suit than he was arrested and charged with being a member of a clandestine political group that called for Moi’s overthrow. His passport was also confiscated meaning that he could not travel outside the country. It took the intervention of the international community and organizations like Amnesty International (who we now call evil society), for Kuria to be released.
For his endless pursuit of justice for Kenyans under persecution by the then regime, Kuria became a darling and an inspiration to the rest of the world. It was not strange therefore, for Kuria to be honored by various institutions across the globe for his sterling work.
In 1988, Kuria received 4 invitations to visit the United States and be honored. There was one invite from the American Bar Association. The Robert F. Kennedy Award for that year went to Kuria (accompanied by $30,000). There were invites from the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch. But the government made it very clear: Gibson Kamau Kuria was not travelling anywhere outside the borders of Kenya. Remember, his passport was being held by the government.
Something else to note here. All the things the government did then, they were within the government’s interpretation of what the law entailed. Moreover, there were defenders of the torture and incarceration being meted on the likes of Kuria, Kariuki, Kihoro et al. The goose steppers then, just like today, had a field day making justifications. A ministry of Foreign Affairs official, on being asked why Kuria’s passport could not be returned to him so that he could travel noted:
“Those who come out of detention have to wait.” (I can hear him say, “that is the law.”)
Kuria filed another case with the court, this time, seeking to retrieve his passport. Kuria’s argument was that government did not have the right to withhold a passport unless its owner is accused or suspected of a crime.
All told, this is not about the government holding Kuria’s passport. It is not about what was right or what was wrong. There is something else more substantial that Kuria teaches us. Despite going through these frustrations and tribulations (including being interrogated while naked), Kuria harbored no ill will or bitterness toward his oppressor(s). His timeless response, when asked what he thought of his persecutors:
“Public authorities everywhere will make mistakes”