Furore over grasscutting penalty for gang rape suspects; Kenya to formally press charges

NAIROBI (AFP) - A group of men in Kenya accused of ferociously gang raping a schoolgirl and originally punished by being made to cut grass around a police station are to be formally charged, the public prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Worldwide outrage over the punishment last year prompted over 1.6 million people to sign a petition demanding justice, with the office of the director of public prosecution then ordering an investigation into the handling of the case.

After reviewing the evidence, the prosecutor's office said in a statement on Tuesday it had "directed that the suspects be charged with gang rape".

The 16-year-old victim, known by the pseudonym Liz, was reportedly attacked, beaten and then raped by six men as she returned from her grandfather's funeral in western Kenya in June. The gang dumped her, bleeding and unconscious, in a deep sewage ditch.

She suffered a broken back, caused either by the beating or by being hurled down into the pit, as well as serious internal injuries from the rape.

The case made global headlines after it emerged that three of the alleged rapists who Liz identified were ordered by police to cut grass around the police station as punishment.

One suspect appeared in court last week, charged with causing grievous harm.

It is not clear if legal proceedings have begun against anyone else, but the prosecutor ordered that "other suspects who are still at large be apprehended and brought to justice without further delay."

Kenya's civilian police oversight body is also investigating the "conduct of the police officers who mishandled the initial report made by Liz".

Police chief David Kimaiyo had cast doubt on Liz's testimony, saying in November that the time between her screams for help and villagers coming to her rescue was "too short for six assailants to have gang raped her".

The case is due in court again on April 8.

Rape is a serious problem in Kenya but is seldom taken seriously by the police, rights groups say.

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