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Former Kenyan prisoner of conscience Koigi wa Wamwere visited AIUSA's National Office in May to personally thank Amnesty for his regained freedom.

There are a lot of things that people take for granted," an emotional Wamwere told a hushed gathering of staff and members in AIUSA's conference room.

"There was a time when people talked about freedom of movement and I didn't really know what they meant -- until I was kept in solitary confinement for years. The freedom just to move about, even within prison walls, had been denied me. The freedom to be able to look up at the stars, I had been denied for such a long time.

"So when I thank you for returning my freedom, you probably won't be able to gauge the depth of my gratitude, precisely because you have never been denied these things. But when you have been denied and have been given these things back, then you know how precious they are. When one gives you freedom and life, one cannot give you a greater gift, and that is what you have given me."

On October 3, 1995, a Kenyan court convicted Wamwere, his brother Charles Kuria Wamwere and G.G. Njuguna Ngengi of the National Democratic Human Rights Organization on charges of "attempted robbery with violence." Accused of leading a raid on a police station, the defendants said they weren't even in the area when the raid allegedly occurred. Upon conviction, they were sentenced to four years in prison and six strokes of the cane.

AI promptly adopted the three as prisoners of conscience. Their real "crime" was in attempting to investigate and make public the ethnic violence that has claimed more than 1,500 lives since 1991 in Kenya's Rift Valley, Amnesty said.

Wamwere was released on medical parole on December 13, 1996. His two colleagues were freed on the same grounds a month later. During their imprisonment, all three men had been under threat of possible execution.

During his recent visit, Wamwere said he had made it a mission to thank AIUSA members in person, because they campaigned specifically on his behalf throughout the year leading up to his release.

This article appeared in AIUSA's June 1998 monthly mailing


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