Kenya police in court over baby's murder

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A group of Kenyan police officers appeared in court on Monday accused of murdering a baby during a violent crackdown on post-election protests five years ago.

The killing of six-month-old Samantha Pendo became a symbol of unchecked police brutality during the bloody aftermath of the disputed 2017 presidential election.

Nine out of 12 police suspects -- including senior commanders -- appeared at a Nairobi court but did not enter any plea, and Judge Daniel Ogembo ordered them to return to court on November 21 to answer charges of murder.

Baby Samantha died after being beaten by police during a raid on her parents' house as protests flared in the western lakeside city of Kisumu in August 2017.

Officers fired tear gas into their house and battered down the door before raining blows on the couple with batons while the mother held Samantha in her arms.

An autopsy had shown that she had suffered acute head injuries, her scalp cracking as a result of brutal force by the police.

Last month, Kenyan prosecutors announced they would be charging police officers with crimes against humanity over the 2017 bloodshed, including the killing of the baby.

It was a landmark ruling in Kenya, where extra-judicial killings are rife and justice is rare, with few examples of police being held to account.

Lawyers for the accused police officers have lodged a case with Kenya's Constitutional Court, arguing that since they are facing charges under the International Crimes Act, a special court or tribunal should be established.

- 'Crying for justice' -

But a lawyer for the Utu Wetu human rights group, representing victims of the 2017 crackdown, urged the court to expedite the case.

"This court should put into consideration that there are victims some of who are dead and others living with scars," he said.

"Baby Pendo would probably be five years old today. Her soul is crying for justice. Let her rest in peace knowing that she left behind a country that cares for justice by allowing her murder trial to start without any further delay."

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights documented 94 deaths during the 2017 election crisis as well as 201 cases of sexual violence and over 300 injuries -- the majority of which were attributed to security forces.

The protests erupted after victory was declared for then president Uhuru Kenyatta, angering supporters of his rival, the veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga.

The result was annulled by the Supreme Court after a challenge by Odinga, but he boycotted the rerun, which was won by Kenyatta.

Kenyan police are often accused by rights groups of using excessive force and carrying out unlawful killings, especially in poor neighbourhoods.

Last month, President William Ruto disbanded a feared 20-year-old police unit accused of extrajudicial killings and vowed an overhaul of the security sector.

Kenya's new Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome insisted last Friday after being sworn into office that the force was "very professional", saying there were issues with "just two percent" of officers.