GITOBU IMANYARA FETED FOR HAVING LIVED ‘THE PROVERBIAL CAT’S NINE LIVES’.

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Senior Counsel Gitobu Imanyara receiving this year’s inductee into Law Society of Kenya Roll of Honour from water minister Water and Irrigation Minister.

BY THOMAS KARIUKI.

Senior Counsel Gitobu Imanyara is this year’s inductee into Law Society of Kenya Roll of Honour.

The credit is in relation to his outstanding contribution and role as an exemplary member of the legal profession in Kenya.

The life and times of Mr Imanyara transcends several ages, milestones and historic events in the socioeconomic and political evolution of Kenya.

Called to the bar in October 1978, Gitobu served a then predominantly white bar but achieved many remarkable professional feats and accomplishments.

He first received international acclaim barely three years after admission as an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, when he represented Paul Nakwale Ekai, a young Turkana man who was charged with the murder of the late Joy Adamson.

The Paul Ekai trial took a dramatic turn when the presiding Judge instructed him to meet him in chambers.  Upon reaching the judge’s chambers, Gitobu was arrested on an unspecified charge.

Gitobu demonstrated great courage in the trial, which had the personal attention of the President of the Republic.

Mr Imanyara describes the trial as an eye-opener for him, saying he was able to see “how the law could be misused to serve personal selfish ends.”

In 1982, there was a Coup attempt where the government disbanded the entire Air Force and brought many of its servicemen to trial following the abortive military coup.

Mr Imanyara represented the soldiers, which did not go well with the former President Moi’s regime.

President Moi personally instructed Imanyara’s father, then a Lieutenant Colonel in the army, to advise his son not to represent the soldiers and officers.

Mr Imanyara gave a simple answer to the President’s wish; the cab rank rule and his professional oath of office required a lawyer to represent all clients without fear, favour, affection or ill will.  Undeterred, the Government appointed his father as the presiding officer of the Court Martial, with a view to making it either awkward or professionally impossible for him to represent the soldiers and officers.

When he refused to flinch, the court martial trial was adjourned for the obvious conflict of interest.  His father was subsequently retired from the military.

The government then declared that any lawyer representing the soldiers would be treated as their sympathizer. However, this did not dampen Mr Imanyara’s resolve.

He was as a result of his continued pursuit for justice for the soldiers sent to Kamiti with the offence of theft by agent.

He was imprisoned at Kamiti’s Block E for two years; the block is set aside for insane prisoners. His name was also struck out of the Roll of advocates.

With him in jail, the government then evicted his young family from their house in Ngumo, and sold the house.

After his release, he contested the decision to strike him out of the roll of advocates and was restored by Justice Erastus Githinji, now a Judge of the Court of Appeal.

Mr Imanyara received unrelenting support by a pro bono legal team throughout his trials and tribulations, which was led by SC George Khaminwa, Pheroze Nowrojee and Paul Muite.

His experience inspired him to set up a legal publication whose aim was to expose human rights abuses and the manipulation of the law by those in authority.  The publication quickly carved out a reputation as the main human rights watch in Kenya.  It also won Mr Imanyara great acclaim nationally and internationally.

The Government placed then placed him under round-the-clock surveillance by security intelligence personnel branding him a “subversive element,”

In 1990, Mr Imanyara was detained without trial during a nationwide crackdown on those who advocated for a return to the multiparty system of Government. The others detained with him were Kenneth Matiba, Raila Odinga, Charles Rubia and Mohamed Ibrahim, now a Supreme Court judge.

The Government also banned all past, present and future editions’ of his publication.

Being a staunch believer in pursuing justice through lawful means, Mr Imanyara successfully challenged the ban in court.

Mr. Justice Frank Shields, the Judge who granted stay orders against the ban of the publication, was soon forced to retire from the judiciary.

In March 1991, Imanyara was arrested and charged with sedition for articles published in his publication calling for a new constitutional dispensation.

He was severely tortured at the infamous Nyayo House Torture Chambers, subjected to untold inhumane treatment, denied bail and returned to the disreputable Block E of Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.

With his health deteriorating rapidly, Mr Imanyara was admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital on the orders of Mr. Justice Porter, who also directed that he should not be returned to solitary confinement at Kamiti. For the next three and half months, he was chained to a bed at the hospital before being released following,

 

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Amnesty International arranged for medical attention for him in London following his release.  This coincided with an award of the Golden Pen of Freedom by the World Association of Newspaper Publishers.

In order to preclude Mr Imanyara from receiving the award, the Government confiscated his passport. The World Association of Newspaper Publishers sent its president to Nairobi to personally present the award to him.

Gitobu is the first Kenyan to file a presidential election petition against President Daniel Arap Moi, similarly challenged the constitutionality of Section 2A of the repealed Constitution however, he was arrested and remanded a day prior to the hearing of the petition, to pave way for Justice Dugdale to dismiss the matter for non-attendance.

He also successfully challenged the constitutionality of amendments to the Penal Code outlawing the grant of bail in robbery cases

Mr Imanyara was inducted into the Law Society of Kenya Roll of Honour because of his exemplary contribution to the legal profession as well as the socioeconomic and political advancement of the Kenyan nation state.

The law society of Kenya said Mr Imanyara’s consistency of conduct, especially during moments of great temptation, trial or upheaval, was particularly an important consideration.

 


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