Kenyan court frees 16 boda boda riders detained over attack on woman

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A Kenyan court on Monday acquitted for lack of evidence and ordered the release of 16 motorbike taxi drivers who were arrested after the attack on a female diplomat in early March that shocked public opinion in the country.

The drivers of boda-boda (the name given to motorbike taxis) were arrested three days after the violent attack, which took place in broad daylight in the capital Nairobi after a traffic accident.

In a video posted on social media, the young woman was seen screaming in self-defence behind the wheel of her car as a group of men tried to strip her naked and touch her.

"The investigating officer having found no evidence to prosecute the suspects, I hereby release them," Judge Martha Nanzushi told the court on Monday.

A 17th man, believed to be the ringleader of the attack, will face trial. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of sexual assault.

He was arrested in mid-March in a town near the Tanzanian border, 400 kilometres from Nairobi, after police said he escaped arrest by running away down a drain.

In response to the nationwide outcry over the attack, President Uhuru Kenyatta has called for a crackdown and ordered a general census of motorbike taxis in Kenya.

Boda-boda are a cheap form of transport in the East African country, which lacks a developed public transport network.

According to official figures from 2018, 1.4 million motorbikes were registered in Kenya, most of them boda-boda.

Boda-boda riders, mostly young men, have a bad reputation, disregarding traffic rules and easily attacking other riders. They are also regularly accused of snatching and harassment or assault, including rape.

The boda-boda were classified in 2019 as a "threat to national security" by a research unit of the Ministry of Interior.

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