ICJ to send observer to Kenya trial

The ICJ today announced that it will send a leading African lawyer to observe the trial in Kenya against lawyer Pheroze Nowrojee.

Mr Nowrojee is charged with contempt of court for protesting court delays in the case of the widow of the slain Bishop Alexander Muge. If convicted, he faces a prison sentence.

The Geneva based ICJ, acting through its Centre for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers (CIJL), announced that its observer at the trial, starting 20 November, will be Mr Ali Mohamed Hamir, former Chairman of the Zambian Law Association and a member of the Executive Committee of the African Bar Association.

ICJ Secretary-General Adama Dieng noted that the charges against Mr Nowrojee come during a period of intensified government harassment of human rights lawyers and those who represent unpopular clients. He went on to state, however, that the ICJ would wait until receiving Mr Hamir’s report before determining if there had been a violation of the Rule of Law.

Mr Nowrojee, 51, is a well-respected senior advocate of the High Courts of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and has lectured at the law faculties in both Kenya and Tanzania. He is also a member of the Kenya Law Society.

The contempt charges stem from a letter Mr Nowrojee wrote to the Registrar of the High Court of Kenya protesting court delays in rendering a decision in the case of Mrs Herma Muge. Mrs Muge is the widow of Bishop Alexander Muge who was killed under mysterious circumstances. He is further charged with “causing the publication of information from the same letter in the local daily papers, the Daily Nation, The Standard and Kenya Times”.

On 18 October 1990, the Attorney-General Matthew Muli called for the imprisonment of Mr Nowrojee in the local press. He argued that the “publication of the alleged letter is a scurrilous and unjustified attack on the court and calculated to bring into disrepute and contempt the administration of justice”. The charges allege that the publication of the letter to the court was contemptuous, as well as the publication of the letter in the press. According to Mr Nowrojee, however, he was properly exercising his obligation as an advocate to pursue the means at his disposal necessary to ensure adequate representation for his client.

Mr Nowrojee is also involved in other politically sensitive cases. Currently he is the lawyer for Gitobu Imanyara, lawyer and editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly. On 28 September 1990, the Attorney-General banned the magazine prohibiting the sale or distribution of all “past, present and future copies” of the magazine. On 8 October 1990, Mr Nowrojee obtained a temporary stay on the ban of the Nairobi Law Monthly.

ICJ Secretary-General Adama Dieng stated that the ICJ’s sole motive in sending an observer to this trial was to determine if the charges against Mr Nowrojee and the trial itself were in conformity with international standards regarding the independence of the legal profession. He cited, in particular, the “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers” recently approved by the United Nations which guarantee lawyers’ immunity for actions properly taken in defence of their clients and which protect them from politically-motivated reprisals.

The ICJ established the CIJL to promote worldwide the basic need for an independent judiciary and legal profession and to organize support for judges and lawyers who are being harassed or persecuted. In an August 1990 report to the United Nations, the CIJL presented the cases of 430 judges and lawyers in 44 countries who had suffered reprisals for carrying out their professional obligations.

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