NAIROBI Kenya is investigating an accusation by a security guard that the deputy chief justice threatened her with a pistol during a security check at an upmarket shopping mall on New Year's eve, police and the judiciary said on Thursday.
Nancy Baraza, sworn into office in June, has a track record of pushing for legal reform. She and Chief Justice Willy Mutunga have promised to transform a judiciary widely seen as inefficient and corrupt.
Analysts said the incident was a test of the judicial reforms and authorities should avoid damaging public confidence in the process.
"Investigations are being carried out into the claims by the security guard," Anthony Kibuchi, the Nairobi provincial police chief, said. Police were evaluating closed circuit television footage and questioning witnesses.
Baraza issued a statement saying she had received threats since her appointment and was concerned for her safety. She did not discuss the incident in detail, citing the police investigation.
Security guard Rebecca Morara told local media Baraza refused to be screened at the entrance to the Village Market shopping mall in Nairobi. When asked to have her bag checked, Morara said Baraza resisted and threatened her with a pistol.
There is heightened security in Kenya after threats by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in Somalia. Hand-held metal detectors are used in places where people gather, including shopping malls.
The rebels have threatened attacks in Kenya after the east African country sent troops into Somalia, blaming the rebels for cross-border kidnappings and attacks.
Baraza said she had requested increased security measures after a number of incidents in and outside her office, and that threats of violence had been directed at her.
"The unfortunate incident at the Village Market should be viewed in light of the genuine security apprehension on my part. I certainly had no intention of high handedness, arrogance or ill will," Baraza said in her statement.
Political commentator Kwamchetsi Makokha said: "This incident has considerably punctured the momentum of reform and the moral standing. Unless transparent measures are taken to get to the bottom of this matter, public confidence in the judiciary will be heavily dented."
Mutunga said: "This matter has rightly generated considerable public interest and should be dealt with conclusively and satisfactorily. I am in the process of getting full facts surrounding the incident.
"Nobody or institution is above the law ... The judiciary is instituting its own internal investigation," said Mutunga, who said at his swearing-in that he expected to end oppression and exploitation and promote transparency and freedom.