On 23 September 2014, human rights lawyer Ms Wendy Wanja Mutegi was forced to cancel her scheduled community meetings for fear of attack from a group of men who had threatened to harm her if she does not halt her advocacy work on behalf of an indigenous community in Eastern Kenya.
Wendy Wanja Mutegi is a human rights lawyer and community organiser who currently chairs the Law and Social Development Trust (LASODET), an organisation dedicated to the defence of indigenous and environmental rights in Kenya. Since 2010, LASODET has partnered with /Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka Trust/, a community group with 3,000 members from Chuka (Tharaka Nithi County, Eastern Kenya) to reclaim the rights of the Chuka community to Chuka forest (a section of Mount Kenya forest) and to fight against illegal logging activities that have reportedly caused substantial degradation of the forest.
On 19 September 2014, Wendy Wanja Mutegi was followed and confronted by three unidentified men in connection with a pending court case she is involved in on behalf of the 3000 members of /Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka Trust/. At approximately 4 pm, the human rights defender was meeting a friend at Hotel Legacy in Chuka town when a local businessman came and sat nearby. When she stood up to join people who had called her, the businessman whispered a warning to her in the local language /“Ni umundi”/ (Today is the day). Recognising the businessman as one the loggers whose activities triggered the court case, Wendy Wanja Mutegi left the hotel premises, but realised she was being followed by three men who she didn't know. Upon reaching the main road, she decided to board a /matatu /(minibuses providing public transport services in Kenya) heading to Meru town; but the three men did too, one taking a seat next to her and the two others sitting behind. Moments later into the trip, she asked to get off the /Matatu – /trying toescape from the men/. /When she exited, the threemen did the same. At this point, she tried using her cell phone, but the men who had approached her warned her not to try. They told her that they were there to give her the last warning and that she should withdraw the court case if she wanted to live. They notified her that they knew where she was staying in Meru town, and that they had done enough investigations to even know where she stays when she is in Nairobi. Before they left, they gave her an ultimatum of 7 days to withdraw the case, andwarned that they would track her, should she report the intimidatory acts to the police.
The court case in question was initiated in April 2014. Wendy Wanja Mutegi managed to obtain court orders in June 2014 barring several loggers licensed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) from harvesting trees from the Chuka forest “without plans of replanting after harvesting.” According to the human rights defender, without the urgent action taken by LASODET, the loggers would have gone ahead with a plan to clear approximately 40 acres of forest area and an estimated 9 million trees.
On 17 September 2014, Wendy Wanja Mutegi had her latest court appearance. She had to be escorted by members of /Atiriri Bururi ma Chuka Trust /because of concerns for her security. On the day before, she had accompanied “community forest officers” (community members who have volunteered to monitor and report on illegal loggingactivities in Chuka forest) on a“forest surveillance” visit,only to be intercepted by a forest guard who threatened to have the whole group arrested.
The next court hearing has been scheduled for 2 October 2014. Before then,the human rights lawyer and the community grouphave committed to organising two more such surveillance visits in preparation for the hearing. The 7-day ultimatum given to the human rights defender is due to expire on 26 September 2014.
Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the physical and psychological integrity of Wendy Mutegi in light of the threats against them, which are due to her legitimate work in defence of human rights, particularly indigenous and environmental rights.
Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Kenya to:
1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the threats directed against Wendy Wanja Mutegi with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;
2. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity and security of human rights defender Wendy Mutegi;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Kenyaare able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.