NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A Kenyan court Friday acquitted 35 Chinese nationals and five Taiwanese who were arrested two years ago on suspicion of wire fraud.
Senior Principal Magistrate Joyce Gondani said the prosecution had failed to prove its case, ruling there wasn't sufficient evidence to convict them.
The group had faced charges of running a telecommunication system without a license, conspiracy to commit felony and engaging in organized crime. They all denied the allegations.
In total, 111 people Chinese and Taiwanese have been arrested, but most of them were deported because they didn't have proper documentation to stay in Kenya.
Forty-five other Taiwanese nationals arrested on similar charges were draped in black hoods and deported to China upon their acquittal in April, despite expressing fears of human rights violations, rights group Amnesty International said in a statement. They are currently undergoing a second trial in China, it said.
The move was criticized by Taiwan, which is fighting China's claim to its territory and wanted its citizens returned there.
Analysts say China's specific goal for accepting the Taiwanese previously deported from Kenya is to extract concessions from Taiwanese President-elect Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to endorse Beijing's position that Taiwan and the mainland are part of a single Chinese nation. The sides split amid civil war in 1949, and China has threatened to use force to gain control over the self-governing island
Kenyan authorities must not deport the five Taiwanese nationals released Friday to China, where they face a real risk of human rights violations, Amnesty International said.
"If deported to China, they could face serious violations of their fair trial rights. There is no doubt Kenya cherishes its relationship with China, but by no means should it sacrifice these individuals' rights for political expediency, the due process of the law must be respected" said Amnesty East Africa campaigner Victor Odero.