A Kenyan broadcaster described as the mouthpiece of the deputy president denied helping incite a post-election bloodbath, telling the International Criminal Court on Wednesday he was a deeply religious, law-abiding man.
Joshua arap Sang is charged with crimes against humanity relating to the violence, alongside Deputy President William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta, in cases some Kenyans fear could reignite the political strife they have struggled to put behind them.
Prosecutors say Sang, 38, used his radio show to send out coded messages encouraging members of his and Ruto’s Kalenjin tribe to attack rivals after disputed elections at the end of 2007.
The violence which continued into 2008 killed more than 1,000 people and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes in East Africa’s biggest economy.
The cases have divided public opinion in Kenya where many have accused the court of unfairly targeting African leaders. That perception has driven primarily symbolic parliamentary and senate votes calling for Kenya to withdraw from the ICC.
“In my entire life, I’ve never stood before any court,” Sang said, rising to speak over the objections of the prosecution, who said they expected only his lawyer to give an opening statement. Judges overruled the objection.
“I am a law-abiding person. I’ve lived my life as a Christian, with all the Christian values,” he said.
Chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Sang’s messages on Nairobi radio station Kass FM were meant to coordinate violent attacks in the Rift Valley region.
“The main mouthpiece used by Mr Ruto to spread his message, was his co-accused Joshua arap Sang,” she said.
Both Ruto and Sang pleaded not guilty to the charges at the trial opening on Tuesday.
Ruto’s lawyer Karim Khan gave a fiery speech that appeared to be aimed at a Kenyan audience back home, and said prosecutors had been misled by tainted evidence and false testimony.
Kenyatta will come to court to defend himself against similar charges in a separate trial that starts in November, and will be the first serving head of state to go on trial before an international court.
“WOULD I BE SO SILLY?”
Though Kenyatta, the son of the country’s founding father, was in a rival political camp to Ruto’s during the crisis, the two reconciled after the ICC brought charges against them, and they won this year’s national elections on a joint ticket.
The Kenyan trials are seen as a test for the ICC, which after 10 years has only secured one conviction and brought charges only against Africans.
The cases have also posed challenges to prosecutors, who have had to contend with the loss of some of their key witnesses over the course of a three-year investigation. Chief prosecutor Bensouda said the witnesses had been intimidated into withdrawing.
Sang said the charges that he coordinated attacks against members of the Kikuyu tribe in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret made no sense, as his own wife lived in a Kikuyu house in the same town.
“Would I be so silly, so stupid as not to be concerned about my family?” Sang asked.
Joseph Kigen-Katwa, his lawyer, said all the witnesses against Sang were linked to Kenya’s Party of National Unity, a rival party to Ruto’s Orange Democratic Party led by former prime minister Raila Odinga.
In Eldoret, 300 km (190 miles) northwest of Nairobi, locals followed the proceedings by television on Wednesday.
“This case is causing us unnecessary anxiety. People obviously want to be informed of what is unfolding because the outcome will affect our relations with other neighbors within the country,” said Joseph Kandie, 57, a Kalenjin farmer.
“Let’s wait and see. What Kenyans want is justice,” said 40-year-old mechanic Alfred Onyango.
“If Sang is innocent as he says, then he will be set free. Above all, he now has a chance to clear his name and set the record straight. But peace is what we call for even as the cases continue.”
The trial of Ruto and Sang was adjourned after Sang finished speaking. The first prosecution witness, who had been due to testify on Wednesday, will now attend court on Tuesday.