Freedom? No thanks, says terror suspect freed by court

Sheikh Guyo Garso

Sheikh Guyo Garso in the dock on May 5, 2022.

Photo credit: Richard Munguti | Nation Media Group

In a rare occurrence, a Muslim cleric arrested in 2018 over terrorism, and who was acquitted yesterday, has astonished everyone by refusing to leave Kamiti maximum prison, alleging he will be executed by state security agents.

However, the former Marsabit madrasa teacher, Sheikh Guyo Garso, will pay for his patronage of Kamiti prison for 30 days, as he pursues a suit he has filed in the High Court to compel the government to protect him.

Sheikh Garso refused to be handed over to his relatives who were in court, saying he feared he would be killed, just like other terror suspects who have disappeared without a trace upon being freed from custody. 

The cleric pleaded with the magistrate to direct Kamiti prison authorities to ensure he is safe and that they should not hand him over to any police officer since he is apprehensive he will not live a day after exiting the prison gates.

The cleric sat in the dock pensively as Milimani Law Courts Chief Magistrate Wendy Kagendo declared him free.

“Your honour, I pray you direct Sheikh Garso remains in Kamiti, even after you have declared him a free man. He fears for his life,” veteran defence lawyer John Khaminwa pleaded. 

Quoting Articles 20, 21 and 22 of the Constitution, Dr Khaminwa said state organs have a duty to protect the rights of citizens under the Bill of Rights.

“One of the fundamental rights of a citizen is right to life,” Dr Khaminwa submitted.

Dr Khaminwa, who has practised for more than 60 years, urged the magistrate to direct the prison authorities to protect Sheikh Garso until further orders are issued by the superior court.

“I undertake to pay for his subsistence while in Kamiti until further orders are made by the High Court over his right to live,” said Dr Khaminwa. 

In a brief ruling, Ms Kagendo directed that Sheikh Garso remain at Kamiti maximum prison for 30 days as he pursues the High Court case.

“It is the High Court which is vested with the power to interpret the Constitution, then give orders it deems fit,” Ms Kagendo stated.

She said since the Sheikh was apprehensive about his life and the court cannot shut its eyes and order him to leave Kamiti if he has information that he may not live another day once he exits the prison.

On January 13, 2018, riots by about 400 youths were reported in Marsabit town. The protesters attacked police officers and tried to invade the Marsabit police station but were repulsed.

The sheikh was arrested in Marsabit town the same day, then flown to Nairobi in investigations over terror-related offences. 

The suspect was accused of conspiracy to commit terrorism, radicalisation, recruiting members to a terrorist group and membership to a terrorist group, which the prosecution noted attract jail terms of up to 30 years each. The court heard the suspect was arrested on suspicion of recruiting youths to join Al Shabaab.

When Sheikh Garso was presented to court on January 15, 2018, then senior principal magistrate Martha Mutuku ordered his detention at any police station in Nairobi due to security reasons.

Ms Mutuku noted the prosecution's case was compelling. She also noted that it would be improper to release Mr Garso on bail because he was an influential person in the county and people were killed, and the youths damaged property worth millions of shillings during his arrest.

While acquitting Sheikh Garso yesterday, Ms Kagendo said the prosecution had failed to present evidence warranting the court to put him on his defence on the terrorism related charges.

A mobile phone, a flash disk and a 2GB micro SD card had been seized from Mr Garso, and were subjected to forensic examination and a report presented to the court.

However, Ms Kagendo said all the 28 video cassettes presented in court were not linked to the accused.

“Having arrived at the conclusion that a prima facie case has not been established against the accused, I proceed to acquit him,” Ms Kagendo ruled.

And although the magistrate said the court had acquitted Sheikh Garso on all the 11 counts of terrorism and being a member of the Al-Shabaab terror group, Article 21 of the Constitution requires state organs to protect the rights of citizens, one of which is the right to life.

State prosecutor Kibiwott Kiprono did not oppose the request by Sheikh Garso to remain at Kamiti after his acquittal.

Sheikh Garso will be produced in court on June 19 to explain the High Court progress.