The defense of former radio journalist Joshua arap Sang has said that it is not Sang who is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) but the Kalenjin community.
Joseph Kipchumba Kigen-Katwa said in his opening statement Wednesday that his client carried out his professional responsibilities as a radio journalist and did not, as the prosecution alleges, play a role in the violence that nearly tore apart Kenya after the disputed December 2007 election.
Kigen-Katwa said that Sang, while working for the Kalenjin language station KASS FM, addressed issues of interest to his listeners such as farming, business and the law. Kigen-Katwa said his client used Kalenjin proverbs and idioms to put across a point during the popular breakfast show he hosted called Lenee Emet, which directly translated from Kalenjin means “what the country is talking about.” He denied Sang used Kalenjin proverbs and idioms as a code to incite people to violence as has been alleged by a number of prosecution witnesses.
Kigen-Katwa also denied the existence of a network of Kalenjin political leaders, elders, businessmen, and others that the prosecution claims organized violence in the northern Rift Valley against Kikuyus and other perceived supporters of the party of the then President Mwai Kibaki. He also denied that the Kalenjin used circumcision ceremonies to teach young men how to burn houses or destroy evidence as the prosecution alleged.
“In consequence of what I’ve just highlighted to you, your honors … it becomes very clear and apparent that what is on trial are not individuals but it is a community and its culture,” said Kigen-Katwa.
Kigen-Katwa’s line of defense echoes the testimony of one of the witnesses who testified on behalf of Sang during the confirmation of charges hearings in September 2011.
During the course of his opening statement, Kigen-Katwa played several audio clips to show that Sang advocated peace and got key opinion leaders among the Kalenjin to speak up for peace as the violence spread across Kenya. Sang also addressed the court for about nine minutes, narrating his career as a journalist and describing the responsibilities he has in his local church to demonstrate his innocence.
After Kigen-Katwa’s presentation, Senior Trial Lawyer Anton Steynberg rose to object to what he considered a mischaracterisation of the prosecution’s case by the defense lawyers. Karim Khan, the lead lawyer for Deputy President William Samoei Ruto who faces three counts of crimes of humanity like Sang, rose to object arguing that the prosecution cannot be given opportunity to make a second opening statement. He said that the prosecution will be able to debunk anything said in the defenses’ opening statements during the course of the trial as the prosecution presents its case. Presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji allowed the prosecution five minutes to address what it considered mischaracterisations of its case but not any question of evidence.
Steynberg then explained that it was not the Kalenjin as an ethnic group or their culture that was on trial. He said that the prosecution’s case was that Ruto and the network of Kalenjin elders and others “hijacked those traditions, those oathing and circumcision ceremonies to advance their own interests.”
The trial has been adjourned to Tuesday, September 17, to allow the first prosecution witness time to arrive in The Hague. On Monday, the prosecution informed the court that the previously scheduled first three witnesses had withdrawn from the case, forcing them to delay presenting witnesses as they reorganize the order of appearance of their witnesses. Steynberg told the court that their first witness is expected in The Hague today or tomorrow. He said that since Monday is a holiday for the court, that witness will only be able to begin testifying on Tuesday next week.