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Kenya frees 16 held over road attack on woman

NAIROBI (AFP) – A Kenyan court yesterday acquitted 16 motorcycle taxi riders arrested over a vicious attack on a female diplomat after the state failed to provide any evidence against them.

The riders were rounded up early this month after a viral video showed men grabbing at the young woman’s clothing and groping her as she screamed for help from inside the car, whose door had been forced open.

The Nairobi Magistrate’s Court ordered their immediate release after prosecution said they did not have enough evidence to link the riders to the crime.

“The investigating officer having found no evidence to charge the suspects, I hereby release them,” ruled Senior Principal Magistrate Martha Nanzushi.

A 17th man, named the alleged ringleader of the attack, will however stand trial, and faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if found guilty of sexual assault.

He was arrested a fortnight ago near the Tanzania border, some 430 kilometres northwest of Nairobi after evading arrest through a sewer duct, police said.

The shocking daylight attack sparked a furore in Kenya with demonstrators staging a protest in the capital Nairobi against the actions of the riders.

President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered a crackdown on motorcycle taxis and instructed law enforcement officers to ensure the perpetrators were punished.

Motorcycle taxi drivers in Kenya are typically young men and are notorious for breaching the highway code and assaulting drivers after collisions.

The two-wheelers are a popular mode of transport in East Africa’s economic powerhouse, which lacks a proper public commuter system.

There are at least 1.4 million motorcycles registered in Kenya, according to 2018 government data, with the majority used as taxis.

The riders have often been accused by campaign groups of snatch-and-grab robberies and harassing other road users, with abuses often ranging from derogatory comments to rape.

In 2020, a group of riders tried to lynch a former armed forces chief after one of them rear-ended his car, while a deputy governor saw his car torched after a similar accident.

Boda-boda riders were in 2019 classified as a “threat to national security” by an Interior Ministry research unit.