The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Thursday, June 29:

So far, Kenya’s attempt to display the strength of its democracy has been a miserable letdown.

Journalist Peter Makori returned to Kenya this month to have his case heard by the nation’s new human-rights panel.

Makori, who is on a summer fellowship with The Kansas City Star, was falsely imprisoned for 10 months in 2003. During that time, he alleges, he was repeatedly beaten and threatened with execution.

Makori’s case is the first to be heard by Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights. It was to be an example of how Kenya was abandoning the autocratic ways of so many African countries.

Instead, the case has turned into a grisly episode that raises serious doubts about the country’s future. Two witnesses that Makori planned to call have been recently murdered. He now fears for his own safety, as well he should.

The hearing itself has been problematic. Makori was allowed to testify, and one of the defendants read a brief statement proclaiming his innocence but refused to answer questions – on the advice of a government official. The commission then postponed the hearing after learning that three other defendants had yet to receive a summons.

The Kenyan government, like many in Africa and other developing countries, gives lip service to democratic ideals. Yet when individuals stand up to corruption or abuse of power, these governments often lapse into barbaric practices that no civilized nation should stomach.

Democracy is hard work. It sometimes can be inconvenient for those in power. But if the Kenyan government proclaims itself a democracy, it has to allow democratic institutions to function.

Kenya’s human-rights commission was designed as a watchdog group; let it do its job. And the government should assure that Makori is free to make his case without fear of harm.

Many governments find it difficult to allow voices of dissent. But those often are the voices that must be heard.

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