American priest critical of Kenyan government slain

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - An outspoken American priest who was critical of the Kenyan government's human rights record was found shot to death Thursday in western Kenya, police said.

The body of John Kaiser, a Minnesota native who has worked in Kenya for the past 36 years, was found lying beside a road near Naivasha, 50 miles northwest of Nairobi, police spokesman Peter Kimanthi said.

''The body had a bullet wound on the head. A shotgun was found at the scene near the body,'' Kimanthi said.

Kaiser, 67, a member of the Society of St. Joseph, also known as the Mill Hill Fathers, was threatened with deportation in November after the immigration department refused to issue him a work permit.

The government agreed to renew the work permit, normally routine for foreign priests working in Kenya, after the Roman Catholic church and civil rights groups accused the government of trying to silence the priest, a well-known human rights advocate.

Bishop Peter Kairo of Nakuru told the Italian-based missionary news service MISNA he got an anonymous call Thursday morning saying Kaiser had been shot. Kairo said he went to the scene and found Kaiser dead on the pavement by his car, his brains blown out, a gun nearby.

Fellow priests told MISNA that the night before, Kaiser was in his missionary orders' house in Nairobi and was ''visibly upset and nervous and saying he feared for his life.''

Rev. Giulio Albanese, a MISNA official in Rome, noted the slaying came after another Catholic cleric, a local parish priest, delivered a sermon sharply criticizing the government at a holiday ceremony attended by President Daniel arap Moi in Nairobi on Wednesday.

Feeling among colleagues was that ''this may have been an answer to that sermon,'' Albanese said.

Since arriving in the East African country more than three decades ago, Kaiser, worked in the densely populated diocese of Kisii, as well as the diocese of Ngong. Fluent in Kiswahili and other African languages, he has been deeply involved in community affairs.

Testifying before a special government commission earlier last year, Kaiser accused two Cabinet ministers of fomenting tribal clashes and seizing land vacated during the fighting, which broke out before the 1992 multiparty elections.

The government was heavily implicated in instigating the clashes for political motives.

''He was very upstanding, a man who stood for justice,'' Brother Alfons Borgman, a member of the Mill Hill Fathers, told The Associated Press. ''You could say he was a no-nonsense man.''

''He was always a parish priest. For him that meant building and working for peace and justice. He was very much with all the people. ... He was Kenyan with the Kenyans,'' Borgman said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Tom Hart said Kenyan police had promised a full investigation. He said the embassy was still verifying the facts concerning his death.

Kaiser graduated attended St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., for two years. In 1954, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of sergeant in the paratroopers. In 1960, he graduated from St. Louis University in St. Louis, Mo., and attended St. Joseph's Seminary in Mill Hill, England from 1960-1964, where he studied philosophy and theology.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment