Church leaders appeal against China death sentences for Kenyans

By Ecumenical News International
June 16, 2009

A number of Kenyan church leaders are urging their government to move swiftly to save the lives of citizens of the east African country who are on death row in China.

"They [Kenya government] have to be quick," Anglican Bishop Joseph Wasonga told Ecumenical News International after news broke that five Kenyans had been sentenced to death in China and six were serving life imprisonment terms, due to drug trafficking convictions.

"Drug trafficking is a big challenge to countries, and measures should be taken against it, but still, those accused will need justice," said Wasonga. "The government must ensure these citizens are properly tried."

Moses Wetangula, Kenya's foreign affairs minister said that the government would negotiate a prisoner exchange protocol with China, so the victims could serve their sentences in Kenya.

The east African nation has capital punishment on its statutes, but no prisoner has been executed in the recent past. The last known official execution in Kenya occurred in 1987 during the presidency of Daniel arap Moi.

"I intend to visit China to see how we can commute the death sentences to life [imprisonment] and see how we can exchange prisoners so that they can serve sentences in Kenya," said Wetangula.

The prisoners, according to the minister, are young women and men, who he said were lured to into trafficking by drug barons. Some may not have known they were carrying drugs, the East African Standard newspaper reported.

"Their law is the way it is," said Roman Catholic Bishop Martin Kivuva of Machakos. "But if I were Chinese, I would advocate life - not a death sentence - but life imprisonment."

The Rev. David Gathanju, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa urged the government to view the execution threat as a serious matter.

"If justice is to be done, they need to given qualified interpreters or taken to a neutral ground," said Gathanju. "They can have the prisoners tried in a language and culture they understand."

The Kenyans are on death row alongside other nationals from African and Asian nations.
China does not release statistics regarding its executions. Those who are sentenced to death for drug offences, however, are executed by a firing squad or through a lethal injection. Amnesty International in 2005 accused China of trading in prisoners' organs.

Amnesty said that in 2008 China carried out more executions than the rest of the world put together and that of 2390 recorded executions in 25 nations, 72 per cent were in China.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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