Kenya Track Star’s Asylum Appeal Revived

Former Kenyan track star Sylvester Otieno Owino has won a second shot at asylum in the U.S., based on claims he was beaten and jailed for his criticism of the Kenyan government and his support of women’s rights.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday reinstated Owino’s asylum claim saying his claim of police torture need not depend on arrest documents from those very police stations.

Owino was a former international track and field competitor who came to the U.S. in 1998 on a student visa.  In 1996, while he owned a bike shop in Jera, Kenya, near Lake Victoria, he criticized the Kenyan government.

Owino claimed in his asylum request that local police held him for 10 days and beat him.  He moved to the capital Nairobi, where he enrolled in college and began competing internationally in track and field.  His wins drew media attention and after Kenyan police came after him again in 1997, he criticized them in a news interview.

He alleges the police detained him for three weeks, beat him and killed another arrestee in front of Owino warning that he could be killed to if he reported the incident.  He also alleged police planted his fingerprints on a gun, threatening to use it as evidence against him if he said anything.

Owino transferred to school in San Diego and authorities began deportation after his conviction for second-degree robbery. At that point he applied for asylum.

The immigration judge found Owino ineligible in 2006.  Despite Owino’s attempt to introduce evidence that confirmed his arrests in  Kenya in1997, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the denial of asylum saying Owino had not shown evidence that he would be tortured if returned to Kenya. The 9th Circuit revived his claim in 2009.

The State Department violated federal disclosure law by delivering Owino’s arrest documents to police without his consent, which could give Owino an entirely new claim under anti-torture law.

The 9th Circuit sent the case back to immigration authorities to determine whether the U.S. government’s breach of his right to confidentiality gave him a new claim for asylum and to reconsider Owino’s credibility on his original claim using all the evidence in the record.

Case: Owino v. Holder, No.12-71321


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