Tight presidential race includes candidate accused of links to violence that killed 1,000 after 2007 ballot.
Uhuru Kenyatta, a candidate for the Kenyan presidency, has asked through his lawyers for his trial on charges of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be delayed in order to allow him to prepare his defence.
Kenyatta, a former finance minister and the son of his country’s founding president, is one of four accused at the ICC of orchestrating bloody clashes in which 1,200 people died and thousands were uprooted from their homes after disputed elections in December 2007.
His lawyers said on Thursday that a trial delay was needed to let them respond to evidence disclosed at the last minute by prosecutors.
Speaking at a hearing in The Hague, they said that stalling by ICC prosecutors had left them with only a hazy idea of the charges Kenyatta and his co-accused faced.
They also requested that suspects be allowed regularly to attend via video link, and asked judges to explore moving the trial location to Arusha, in Tanzania, where there is an existing UN court trying suspects in the Rwandan genocide.
“Let us investigate these allegations properly,” Steven Kay, the British barrister representing Kenyatta, said.
“I have not even been able to read the evidence.”
Also accused is Kenyatta’s one-time political rival and now running mate, William Ruto, a former higher education minister.
A close second
Kenyatta is running a close second to Prime Minister Raila Odinga in election polls in the run-up to the March 4 presidential election.
Kenyatta and Ruto, who followed Thursday’s hearings by video link from Kenya, spoke once each, both confirming they understood they were still subject to the judges’ court summons.
Two other accused, Francis Mathaura, Kenya’s cabinet secretary, and Joshua Arap Sang, a radio broadcaster, came to The Hague for the hearing.
Lawyers for Muthaura accused prosecutors of summoning witnesses who had lied to the court.
Ruto’s lawyer demanded access to recordings of the prosecution’s interviews with witnesses, and that the trial be delayed for up to four months.
The prosecution for its part said that all evidence would be disclosed by March, a month before the trial’s planned start date.
“The defence has been receiving a steady flow of evidence,” said Lucio Garcia for the prosecution.
“They know exactly what the case is.”
Lawyers for Ruto and Sang said that the Tanzanian government would be happy to host the trial.
While this would be more convenient for the accused, the prosecution has previously warned that Arusha’s proximity to Kenya could make it easier for witnesses to be threatened.