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No evidence for heavily shared story that wildlife poachers in Kenya will be executed

This article is more than 5 years old

A South African website says poachers in Kenya may soon share the fate they mete out to the country’s wildlife.

News360 published the claim under the headline: “Kenya announces death penalty for animal poachers”.

The article says it is illegal to kill endangered animals in Kenya, with a penalty of a life sentence or fine of $200,000 for offenders.

“However, this has not been deterrent enough to stop poaching,” it quotes Kenya’s tourism cabinet secretary Najib Balala as saying.

The story was also published on Facebook, where it was widely shared globally. It is well travelled, appearing on Global Citizen, Truth Theory and numerous other websites.

But did Kenya’s tourism minister pledge capital punishment for poachers? We checked.

Story traced to Xinhua news agency

News 360 attributed the quote to an article on the UK’s Independent news site, which in turn cited a story by Xinhua, a Chinese news agency. That article prompted a cautionary opinion piece on the Mail & Guardian.

Xinhua claimed Balala said this at the launch of a commemorative stamp at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county on 10 May 2018.

Africa Check contacted Xinhua to ask for evidence of Balala calling for the death penalty for poachers but we are yet to hear from them.

Balala didn’t attend Ol Pejeta event

So what did Balala actually say on 10 May 2018?

He was expected to attend the launch, but Xinhua did not mention that he, in fact, did not attend. But a reporter for the Daily Nation, Nicholas Komu, was present and reported on the event. He confirmed to Africa Check that the cabinet secretary wasn’t there.

Africa Check reviewed photos of the launch which show Kenya Wildlife Service research director Dr Patrick Omondi, Laikipia governor Ndiritu Muriithi, postmaster general Dan Kagwe and Richard Vigne, managing director of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy at the event. Balala is not in any of the photos.

Written speech didn’t mention death penalty

Omondi instead represented the cabinet secretary and delivered his speech, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service, media reports, and social media.

In the speech he said poachers would get the penalties laid down in the Wildlife and Conservation Act of 2013. These are life imprisonment and a fine of KSh20 million – not the death penalty.

Africa Check asked Omondi if he had said in the speech that poachers should get the death penalty. “No. You know our law does not provide for the death penalty. So that was misinformation that should not even be reported,” he said.

“The CS had a written speech which had nothing like that. I never talked about the death penalty.” He could not locate a copy of the speech, however.

‘We are going to change our laws’

Balala had earlier spoken about penalties for poaching, at the funeral of Sudan the rhino – pictured in the News360 article – on 31 March 2018, also at Ol Pejeta.

“We are going to change our laws,” he said. “Anybody who is caught with ivory or killing wildlife will be jailed for life.”

Given his clear words at in March 2018 and his reported official speech proposing life imprisonment two months later, it is unlikely that the minister called for poachers to get the death penalty.

Life imprisonment or KSh20 million – not death sentence

Kenya’s penal code allows the death sentence. But according to the Katiba Institute, no executions have been carried out since 1987.

The Wildlife Conservation And Management Act of 2013 currently imposes between three years and life imprisonment and fines of up to KSh10 million for possession or dealing in trophies of critically endangered wildlife or manufacturing from them.

It also imposes life imprisonment or a KSh20 million fine for hunting elephants and rhinos for sport. The law doesn’t mention a death sentence.

– Africa Check (13/03/19)

CORRECTION: We previously published a version of this article that did not include amendments to Kenya's 2013 Wildlife Conservation and Management Act. The amendments have now been included.

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