A woman who appeared as a protected witness in the crimes against humanity trial of Kenyan Vice President William Ruto has been named by local media and bloggers, prompting a stark warning from the Hague-based tribunal.
The woman was the prosecution’s first witness in the case against Ruto, and she delivered a harrowing testimony to the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday. She was referred to only as “Witness P0536,” her face pixellated and voice distorted.
However, within hours of the court session, relayed on several Kenyan television stations, viewers began speculating on her identity on Twitter and other social media.
By Wednesday, scores of posts on Twitter gave her supposed real name, while one Kenyan blogger and the Web site of a newspaper even published photographs they said were of the witness. The ICC said it may take legal action.
“Any revelation of the identity of a witness whose identity has been protected ... amounts to an offense,” the ICC’s presiding judge Chile Eboe-Osuji said. “Such conducts will be investigated and the culprits will be prosecuted.”
The judge said the warning applied to “everyone inside the courtroom, in the public gallery, in Kenya, and anywhere in the world,” and urged “members of the press, bloggers, social media members or participants and their Web hosts ... to desist from doing anything that would reveal or attempt to reveal the identity of protected witnesses.”
Amnesty International said it was “deeply concerned,” urging “the ICC and the Kenyan authorities to take effective measures to protect the safety and well-being of this witness and her family.”
The Kenyan Human Rights Commission, an independent NGO, said other witnesses could now back out of the trial.
“Now that a witness has been identified it will be difficult to assure others that they are their family members will be safe. And in Kenya, it’s not just the nuclear family: There are aunts, uncles, cousins,” spokeswoman Beryl Aidi said.
The witness had broken down in the Hague court as she recounted how a machete-wielding mob of “about 3,000” youths had trapped about 2,000 people hiding inside a church and set it ablaze.
The prosecution alleges the resulting massacre was part of a plan of ethnic violence orchestrated by Ruto to “satisfy his thirst for power.”
According to a source, about one-third of the witnesses originally scheduled to testify for the prosecution in the case have pulled out.
In an interview prior to the start of the Ruto trial, Richard Dowden, a writer, journalist and head of the Royal Africa Society, said the ICC risked being severely damaged.
“If the cases ... were dropped because of witnesses who appeared credible, and were taken by the ICC to be credible, have withdrawn, then I think the credibility of the ICC would take a big hit because they were not able to protect the witnesses,” he said.