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Terror suspects should not wear face veils in court

Wednesday September 12, 2018

Terror suspects Ummul-Khayr Sadir Abdul, Maryam Said Aboud and Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir before a Mombasa court on April 20, 2015

Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinett has raised concerns over the wearing of niqabs — full face veils — by terror suspects during trial after a woman appeared in court on behalf of her accused sister.

In a letter addressed to the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, Anne Amadi, Mr Boinett decried that suspects are not only allowed to wear niqabs but proceed to take pleas, posing a challenge in identifying them.

The IGP cited an incident where three women charged with being members of al-Shabaab terror group appeared before a Mombasa court while wearing full face veils, but it was later discovered that one suspect had sent her sister to appear in court on her behalf.


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“In the light of the above incident, there may be need to come up with policy guidelines on how such matters should be dealt with by judicial officers to prevent subversion of justice and such future occurrences,” Mr Boinett said.

The police boss said terror suspect Halima Adan sent her sister to appear in court on her behalf on June 21 when the three women were put on their defence.

Ms Adan is charged alongside her co-accused Ummulkheir Sadri Abdalla and Khadija Abubakar Abdulkadir.

On realising that Ms Adan was not in court during the session, Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) officers arrested the suspects as they left the court for further interrogations.


They were, however, released on the same day after being grilled at the ATPU office in Mombasa.

The incident prompted the IGP to formally write to the judiciary to question the practicality of conducting court proceedings with suspects wearing niqab veils that only leave their eye balls visible.

But Mombasa chief magistrate Evans Makori, who is handling the case, insists Ms Adan was present in court.

“On the material day, the matter proceeded in court.. the accused appeared as usual. The allegations that the accused was not in court were found to be materially false because immediately the court rose, the accused were arrested outside the court,” he said.

Mr Makori said there has never been a doubt as to the identity of the suspects since the plea was taken three years ago, adding that the accused have always been wearing veils.


In response to the IGP’s letter, the judiciary said some of the interventions being discussed include the need for legal and institutional reforms. “In the meantime, the wearing of the niqab veil by accused persons will be left to the stewardship of the trial court to balance between religious rights and the ends of justice on case by case basis,” Ms Amadi said.

The suspects, who are out on a Sh500,000 bond each, face several terror-related charges, including organising a meeting in Nairobi on March 26, 2015 to plan on how to cross into Somalia to join the militants.

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