Understanding the death penalty in Kenya

In December 2017, a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court declared the mandatory nature of the death penalty unconstitutional, leading to the creation of the Taskforce on the Review of the Mandatory Death Sentence.

The Constitution of Kenya provides for the right to life of every person except in cases where the individual has been sentenced to death by a court of law for committing a criminal offense such as treason, murder, or robbery with violence.

Although the death penalty is listed in the laws, no executions have taken place since 1987, when people convicted of treason were executed in connection with a coup attempt.

What does a death penalty mean?

Presidents Mwai Kibaki in 2009 and Uhuru Kenyatta in 2016 changed the sentences of all death row prisoners to life imprisonment.

Everyone who had been given a death sentence was to receive a life sentence, per their order. However, “life” is regarded in Kenya as lasting until death and not by execution.

Life in Kenya’s prison system is until death with little chance of early release, unlike other prisoners who can have their sentences reduced based on good behavior and work performance.

The death penalty is a controversial topic globally due to moral issues and its effectiveness in deterring crime. Some people believe the state should not have the power to deliberately kill a person while others believe a person who kills deserves to die.

Research has shown that the death penalty may not effectively deter crime, and in some cases, people have been executed for murder even though they were not guilty.

In Kenya, there is a cause for concern as people have been sentenced to death for robbery with violence, which includes being armed with a dangerous weapon, using personal violence, or being part of a group. This is a broader category than murder and has resulted in more death sentences.

The court of appeal has made rulings in the past on the constitutionality of the death penalty and has concluded that it should be a possibility and not the only penalty. In 2013, the court ruled that the death penalty for robbery with violence was constitutional.

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