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Kenyan health minister says she's innocent of charges she helped prisoner escape

Kenya's health minister said Friday her arrest on charges of helping a women's rights activist escape police custody was unfounded, and that she was simply trying to help the woman see a doctor.

Charity Ngilu was arrested late Thursday, two days after she drove the woman to a hospital.

"I have not committed any offense," Ngilu said from the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters, where she was being held. "I didn't do anything wrong."

Police declined to give details of Ngilu's arrest, but said the charge was justified.

"The law is not going to be compromised in this country," police spokesman Eric Kiraithe said.

Ngilu's attorney said his client didn't help the woman "escape" because police knew she was going to a hospital.

"First of all, she was taking the prisoner to hospital to be treated because the police had beaten her badly," attorney Paul Muite told The Associated Press. The hospital released the woman, Ann Njogu, back into custody the next day, so there was no escape, he said.

Njogu and four others were detained this week after protesting lawmakers' plans to give themselves bonuses of more than US$85,000 (EUR 62,207). A judge released them Thursday, saying they were held without charge beyond the 24-hour limit.

The average monthly salary and allowances for a Kenyan lawmaker is 877,500 shillings (US$13,000; about EUR 9,500). The average monthly income for a Kenyan is 3,200 shillings (US$47; EUR 34), according to the Movement for Political Accountability, a nonpartisan coalition of watchdog organizations.

Njogu, who was limping and using a cane, spoke briefly to the health minister at CID headquarters Friday.

"When injustice becomes the law, resistance becomes a duty," Njogu told her.

The activists, who held a press conference after their release, commended Ngilu's actions.

"What she did I think was honorable and commendable," said Mwalimu Mati, a former head of Transparency International's Kenya chapter. "In the face of an impending violation or an impending felony ... if a minister is standing there, is she expected to watch?"

Ngilu is the first Cabinet minister arrested during President Mwai Kibaki's four years in office, though others have been accused of corruption or disobeying court orders.

Also Friday, 10 people who were arrested Thursday while protesting outside CID were charged with unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. A judge said they would be released on bail.

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