Reprieve investigator Clara Gutteridge detained by Ugandan authorities for seeking to assist Kenyan human rights colleague wrongfully held under terror legislation

December 8, 2010

**UPDATE: Clara is now safely back in the UK, with thanks to the excellent work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office**

Clara Gutteridge, a senior investigator with Reprieve, was detained last night on arrival at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where she had gone to attend the bail hearing for Amin Kimathi, a Kenyan human rights worker who has assisted Reprieve on a number of cases in the region.

Mr Kimathi was recently detained and harshly abused under Uganda’s terror legislation because he was trying to ensure that Kenyan citizens, rendered to Uganda, received a fair trial there.

Ms Gutteridge was not informed of the reason for her detention; she was threatened, denied her right to call the British High Commission and told she would be taken to a local interrogation centre that is notorious for the abuse inflicted on its inmates.

Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, said:

“If ever there were a question that the prosecution of Mr Kimathi was a farce and a mockery, the Ugandan authorities have now dispelled all doubt. If they are afraid of Mr Kimathi getting investigative assistance, then that is eloquent testimony that they have no case. “

“We are grateful for the rapid response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office emergency team. Even though Clara was denied a call to the High Commission, she managed to get through to me on a cell phone that the Ugandans had not taken from her, and the FCO ensured that consular officials were at the airport in rapid time. But the Ugandan authorities’ response to Clara entering the country to help Mr Kimathi is a shocking indictment of the Ugandan legal system.”

Background

Amin Kimathi is a human rights worker who has been targeted because he was trying to ensure a fair trial for the usual suspects who were swept up and abused in the wake of the Uganda bombings in July. He had been working with Reprieve on a number of cases and doubtless had privileged materials about our investigations on his laptop that they read.

Mr Kimathi was detained and badly abused by the Ugandan authorities when he arrived in Uganda in October 2010 to monitor the proceedings of several Kenyan nationals rendered without due process to Uganda in connection with the July 2010 Uganda bombings. His name was added to the charge sheet against the bombing suspects, with an allegation that his laptop contained information about the bombings (which it doubtless did, but not because he knew anything beforehand, but because he and Clara had been working on ensuring a fair trial after the arrest of the men).

Clara Gutteridge (a senior investigator at Reprieve) and a colleague arrived at Entebbe airport at about 11.30pm (local time) on Dec 7, 2010. The purpose of the visit was to attend Mr Kimathi’s bail hearing on Dec 9, and to provide him with investigative support ahead of his trial.

The two women approached the immigration desk to clear immigration formalities when Clara was ordered to wait at the side of the hall, and her passport was confiscated. After around 30 minutes, Clara was informed that she could be detained. She was told that she would be taken to “headquarters” in the morning. By this, she understood that she would be taken to the Ugandan rapid response unit headquarters, a well-known torture centre. She was given no explanation for any of this, despite repeated requests for the reason for her detention.

After several hours, Clara informed an airport official that she and her colleague wished to take the next flight back to Nairobi. She was told that she could not leave. She was given no food or drink.

Clara was expressly denied a request to use an airport phone to contact her consular officials. Neither would the authorities agree to notify the British government themselves, as required by international treaty arrangements. Fortunately she had a cell phone and was able to call for help, both through her Reprieve colleagues in the UK, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Meanwhile, Clara was subjected to aggressive questioning about their reason for visiting the country. At around 7am, a UK consular official arrived at the airport to meet with Clara, but was denied access to her. Ultimately, a more senior consular official arrived and was allowed to talk with Clara.

Clara was informed that she was on a “watch list” of people who had associated with supposed terrorists. Such an allegation is obviously true of all legal advocates for those who face detention and trial, including most of the staff of Reprieve, and many in other NGOs around the world. At this point, the Ugandan authorities said that Clara would be deported, and would not be permitted into the country to monitor Mr Kimathi’s legal proceedings or assist with his defence.

For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk / 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674 or Clive Stafford Smith on cstaffordsmith@gmail.com / 07940 347125.

Notes for Editors:

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 26 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve has also represented a large number of prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world, and is conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

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