Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto has entered a plea of not guilty as his trial on charges of crimes against humanity opens at the Hague.
The International Criminal Court is trying Ruto and radio executive Josha Arap Sang on charges they helped orchestrate ethnic violence after Kenya’s 2007 election that killed more than 1,100 people.
This is the first time the court has tried such a high-ranking official who is still serving in office. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta goes on trial for similar charges in November.
In her opening statement Tuesday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Ruto organized a campaign of armed attacks in Kenya’s Rift Valley to gain political power.
She said the attacks were aimed at driving out members of the Kikuyu ethnic group, who largely supported the National Unity Party, which defeated Ruto’s Orange Democratic Movement in the disputed 2007 presidential poll.
Bensouda said the attacks were planned well before the vote in case of an election loss.
She said Sang broadcast anti-Kikuyu rhetoric on a Rift Valley radio station and helped to coordinate attacks through coded messages.
Both defendants were present for Tuesday’s hearing, backed by a crowd of Kenyan parliament members and other supporters in the public gallery.
Prosecutors are scheduled to call 40 witnesses during the trial, with some appearing anonymously because of safety concerns.
The trial chamber consists of three judges, one each from Nigeria, the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic.
Last week, Kenya’s parliament passed a motion calling for the country to withdraw from the ICC. The court said the cases would continue despite Kenya’s withdrawal, which would take about a year to officially complete. VOA