13 August 2005

Irish priest faces life sentence in Kenya over protest


By Michael O’Farrell, Political Reporter
13 August 2005

AN Irish missionary who lives under constant death threat in Kenya was last night in jail facing a possible life sentence after he was arrested for organising a land rights protest.
Fr Gabriel Dolan, a native of Derrydonnelly, Co Fermanagh, was yesterday charged with intention to cause violence, being involved in an illegal gathering and malicious damage to property - a charge which carries a life sentence in Kenya if upheld.

Despite receiving frequent death threats and being arrested and beaten by police in November 2003, the Kiltegan Fathers missionary is known in Kenya for defending the human and civil rights of his community through the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission.

However, he was arrested yesterday for his role in organising the latest in a series of protest marches against land policies which saw public land assigned to well-connected political cronies.

The demonstration of several hundred in the rural town of Kitale was broken up by police who fired live rounds and tear gas as 23 protesters were arrested.

After initially going into hiding, Fr Dolan yesterday handed himself in to police where he was charged and taken into custody.

Despite putting up money and the deeds to the parish church, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission was refused an application for bail last night and will make another attempt on Monday.

In the meantime, Fr Dolan, who this month collaborated with a special Irish Examiner series on Kenya, remains imprisoned in squalid conditions, sharing a small cell with up to 60 other men.

“It’s very bad. He should have been let out but they argued a technicality to keep him in there,” one of his legal team, Sam Mohochi, told the Irish Examiner from Kitale last night.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said it was “pursuing the matter through diplomatic channels”, while the human rights group Front Line called on the Kenyan Government to release Fr Dolan immediately.

Trócaire, which supports Fr Dolan’s work, said it believed he was being deliberately targeted.

“They’re trying to get after him mainly because of the communal activities he’s been involved in around justice and the land issue here because there’s been so much corruption around it,” said East Africa regional director Noel Maloney.

Fr Tom Kiggins of the Kiltegan Fathers said the society supported Fr Dolan. “He certainly has been quite effective and this is all part of his work to bring justice to the people there.”

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