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Prosecutor Asks More Time “to complete investigations” in Kenyan Cleric Case over COVID-19

Fr. Richard Oduor, Kenyan-born priest incardinated in South Sudan's Torit diocese who was arrested April 9, 2020 after he was discharged from hospital where he was being treated for COVID-19

The government of Kenya through the Director of Public Prosecutions is seeking more time “to complete investigations” in the case of the Kenyan-born Catholic priest, Fr. Richard Oduor, over allegations that he “knowingly” spread COVID-19.

Fr. Richard was arrested on Holy Thursday, April 9 immediately after being discharged from the Nairobi-based Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where he had been undergoing treatment for COVID-19.

He was arraigned in court Tuesday, April 14 from Kileleshwa police station in Nairobi where he had been held since his arrest.

“The prosecution didn't bring a charge sheet. Instead they brought an application to remand him at the police station for 5 days to complete investigations,” the lawyer representing Fr. Richard, Francis Wasuna of Wasuna & Company Advocates told ACI Africa Tuesday, April 14.

Mr. Wasuna and his team opposed the five-day application, which was presented by Corporal John Likuru Mmasi of Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).  

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The Prosecution explained to the court that investigators were not able to obtain the needed information during the Friday, April 10 through Monday, April 13 Easter holiday, adding that they needed to record the accounts of the people Fr. Richard had interacted with as well as officials from the Immigration department.

Other relevant parties to the case, including the first doctor who attended to Fr. Richard had not recorded statements, the Prosecusion submitted to the magistrate at the Nairobi-based Milimani Courts.

“The court ruled that he be held at Kilimani police station for two days,” Mr. Wasuna told ACI Africa recalling the April 14 ruling at Milimani Courts and added in reference to Fr. Richard, “We will go back on Thursday, April 16th when we hope he will be freed on bond.”

Asked about the specific charges filed against Fr. Richard, the Nairobi-based lawyer said, “There is no charge sheet yet but according to the application they are investigating a case of spreading infection” and defying government directive to self-isolate.

“So far, all people who interacted with Father especially in Siaya County have been tested and are negative,” Mr. Wasuna further said and added, “Father too has been tested twice since the positive result and he is negative.”

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The Governor of Siaya County has been quoted as saying that his government had contacted 247 individuals who had interacted with Fr. Richard and that none had so-far tested positive for COVID-19.

A diocesan priest incardinated in South Sudan’s Torit diocese, the 38-year-old Kenyan-born cleric is a student of Liturgy at the Rome-based Pontifical University of Sant'Anselmo.

Mr. Wasuna was appointed to represent Fr. Richard by Archbishop Philip Anyolo of Kenya’s Kisumu Archdiocese on behalf of Archbishop Stephen Ameyu who is the Archbishop of South Sudan’s Juba Archdiocese and Apostolic Administrator of Torit diocese, hence Fr. Richard’s Local Ordinary.

“I contacted Archbishop Philip of Kisumu to help me to see the case of the priest because it is easier for him to do so and he has intervened,” Archbishop Ameyu told ACI Africa Saturday, April 11 referencing Archbishop Anyolo’s delegated role in the case of Fr. Richard.

The native of Kenya’s Siaya County arrived in Nairobi from Rome on March 12 with the intention of proceeding to Juba in South Sudan to witness the March 22 installation of his Bishop, Stephen Ameyu as the Archbishop of Juba.

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Having gone through the tests at the airport and allowed into the country, Fr. Richard traveled, March 13, to the Kenyan port city of Kisumu for a funeral the following day at his home parish, St. Joseph’s Ugunja of the Archdiocese of Kisumu, he told ACI Africa in an interview last month, clarifying that he was one of the Concelebrants during the funeral Mass and “did not even give Holy Communion.”

“I did not know about the Kenya government’s directives around self-isolation when I arrived in the country,” Fr. Richard told ACI Africa, adding that when he learned of the directive after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the country and considering his travel history, he took a flight to Nairobi and lived in isolation at the Holy Family Catholic Parish, Utawala of the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Kenya’s Ministry of Health confirmed the first case of COVID-19 in the country on March 12 and reported to the public the following day, March 13.

According to Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper,  the Cabinet Secretary for Health in Kenya, Mutahi Kagwe announced “mandatory quarantine for all travelers who arrived into the country from March 22.”

Fr. Richard got hospitalized on March 20 after presenting himself to a medical doctor at Nairobi West hospital with “something like mild chest congestion and nausea.”

“I was taken to Mbagathi hospital and admitted that Friday Night; samples were taken on Saturday and the results came out at around 11 a.m. on Sunday,” Fr. Richard recounted to ACI Africa the events of March 21 and March 22 that led to his being informed that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

He was then moved to KNH, the country’s oldest and largest health facility serving as the referral hospital for the Ministry of Health and the teaching hospital of the University of Nairobi College of Health Sciences.

Recalling his health status leading to his being hospitalized and throughout the period of isolation, Fr. Richard has told ACI Africa that he did not experience any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19.

“Sincerely speaking, I have not had those symptoms of coronavirus that are known up to now,” Fr. Richard told ACI Africa March 26  and added, “I’m not coughing, no nausea, no throat irritation, no fever, my body temperature has been in the range of 36.4 to 36.7.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported about asymptomatic laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 to refer to people who are infected with the new coronavirus but do not develop symptoms and indicated that COVID-19 can be transmitted by these asymptomatic carriers.

Fr. Richard’s arrest and detention could be compared to that of the Deputy Governor of Kenya’s Kilifi County, Gideon Saburi who was arrested early this month just after being discharged from the Coast General Hospital. He is facing charges of defying the self-isolation rule by government.

Cases of COVID-19 have surpassed the two million mark across the globe and claimed at least 126,700 lives. Over 484,500 patients have recovered from the disease.

“There is a lot going on but the best thing is to forget about it and concentrate on my healing process,” Fr. Richard told ACI Africa during his last interview, March 26, underscoring the need for him to finish his treatment.