NAIROBI (Reuters) - A Kenyan journalist wanted by the International Criminal Court for trying to bribe witnesses in the prosecution of deputy president William Ruto failed in his bid to block an arrest warrant issued by the tribunal, a court ruled on Friday.
The arrest warrant will test the Kenyan government's stated commitment to cooperate with the ICC. Nairobi has in the past rallied African support against the court, which has until now charged only Africans.
The ICC said on October 2 it had issued a warrant against Walter Barasa for trying to bribe witnesses to withdraw testimony against Ruto, who is facing trial at The Hague over post-election violence in 2007 in which 1,200 people died.
The Kenyan court said that the state could now start a process to enforce the ICC warrant against Barasa and hand him over to the ICC. Barasa declined to comment on the ruling, but his lawyer said they would appeal the court's decision.
Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta are charged with orchestrating violence that swept Kenya after 2007 elections. Both have denied the accusations.
Kenyatta's case was delayed from a planned February 5 start date after prosecutors said witnesses were not ready.
Kenya has called for the cases against Kenyatta and Ruto to be dropped or moved closer to home.
ICC prosecutors say Barasa faced a fine, five years in prison or both if found guilty.
Barasa has denied the ICC charges of tampering with evidence in Ruto's case, and had asked the court to declare the warrant against him invalid.
Kenya is bound by the Rome Statutes that establish the ICC, and is obliged to enforce arrest warrants issued by the court.
However, Kenya has previously said that the procedure for enforcing any warrant issued by the court against any Kenyan is subject to review by the country's judiciary.
Barasa's lawyer, Kibe Mungai, said the appeal over Friday's ruling would likely delay the state's extradition case that was due to start in a fortnight.
"It's not automatic that he will be extradited after today's ruling, that is a separate matter," Mungai told Reuters.
"We are appealing the court's decision and so, for us, nothing has changed. Barasa is here."
ICC prosecutors have previously said Barasa faces three counts of influencing or seeking to influence witnesses. One count alleged he had paid a prosecution witness and her husband 1.4 million shillings ($16,200) to withdraw testimony.
($1 = 86.3000 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by James Macharia and Humprey Malalo; Writing by James Macharia; editing by Ralph Boulton)