Concerns raised over continued restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly
In October 2019, Kenya’s Defenders Coalition raised concern over increased harassment and escalating impunity for violation against human rights defenders (HRDs). This followed arrests of HRDs for undertaking protests even after they had notified authorities as required by law. On 7th October, 13 HRDs were arrested in Mombasa for protesting the monopoly of Standard Gauge Railway in the transportation of goods and were accused of causing disturbance and incitement to violence. Separately, on 9th October, four HRDs were arrested following their participation in a peaceful protest in Nairobi to condemn escalating youth unemployment in the country.
In another incident that sparked public outrage across the country, on 11th November 2019, police were deployed to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja town, north of Nairobi, after students held a demonstration against rising insecurity in the area. A video later emerged of four police officers brutally beating a student, hitting and stamping on him as he lay on the ground. The video ends with the student being led away by the policemen. Amnesty International called for the investigation of police who carried out the attacks, while other human rights organisations claimed that this was proof that the recent police reforms had not been effective. Due to the severity of state violations during the JKUAT protest, civil society organisations such as Article 19 picked up the issue and demanded that action be taken against the officers. A few days later, the inspector of police issued a statement affirming the right to peaceful assembly, and also informing the public that the four officers had been identified and interdicted for violating the student’s rights.
In November 2019, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya Chapter, and the International Centre for Policy and Conflict, who challenged President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto’s eligibility to run in the 2013 general elections, were waived of a USD 1.7 million fine in a Court of Appeal ruling. The court of appeal found that the high Court had erred in imposing the hefty fine on the organisations in a case that was of public interest. The judgment read in part:
“Public interest litigation is for public benefit and not entities that instituted the proceedings. Condemning them to pay huge costs can become a deterrent and more likely will make people shy away from filing suits to defend the Constitution for fear of being punished with costs… They had a genuine concern on the threat to the office of the president and deputy president with both Uhuru and Ruto facing criminal proceedings at the ICC. The trial court, having correctly noted that it was public interest litigation, should not have awarded the costs”.
According to the Independent Medical Legal Unit (IMLU), a Kenyan human rights organisation, police in Kenya killed 91 people in 2019 alone. That brings to 976 the number of people killed by the police service since 2013, according to the group. It is unclear how many of these were extra-judicial killings, but promises to hold Kenyan police to higher human right standards have thus far not bred serious results.
On 2nd November 2019, Kenyan activists were barred from attending a meeting organised by Muslims for Human Rights when authorities cancelled the meeting based on alleged security concerns. The meeting, which was meant to address the economic status of the country did not proceed as police officers blocked the group from entering the Technical University of Mombasa (TUM) where it was to take place. According to the management of the University, they cancelled their agreement to host the meeting as they feared that the students would be radicalised and cause tensions.
In another development, on 21st December 2019 and 7th January 2020, more than 40 LGBTIQ refugees were injured in homophobic attacks by other refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. On 9th January 2019, dozens of LGBTIQ refugees pleaded with the United Nations to relocate them to a safer place. UNHCR however said there had been some incidents of vandalism in the camp, but there was no evidence that LGBTIQ refugees were specifically targeted. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, in December 2018, LGBTIQ refugees in Kakuma camp were beaten with wooden sticks and iron bars while protesting outside the UNHCR office about rising homophobic attacks. LGBTIQ rights activists in East Africa find themselves increasingly vulnerable to persecution and reprisals for their work.
Following a December 2018 court order, the Kenyan government finally agreed to ease the return of opposition figure Miguna Miguna, almost two years after he was deported to Canada. The court had also ordered that human rights officials be allowed into the airport to observe the process. However, on 7th January 2020, Miguna was barred from boarding a plane to Nairobi from Germany. He was first deported in 2018 after taking part in the mock inauguration of opposition leader Raila Odinga. At the time of writing this report, Miguna Miguna has still not been allowed back into the country after several failed attempts to get back in.
On 9th January 2020, it was reported that an officer attached to Okoth Obado, governor of Migori County physically assaulted Ian Byron, a journalist from the Nation Media Group. Byron was covering an event where the governor was launching a scholarship programme at Migori Stadium when one of the governor’s aides approached him with two other men and hit him on the head with a soda bottle, claiming that the media outlet had been giving the governor bad publicity. The aide also told Byron to leave or otherwise ‘face something worse’. The Kenya Union of Journalists, the Kenya Correspondents Association and the Migori Journalists Association condemned the attack and called for investigations by the police.
On 13th January 2020, a Royal Media Services reporter had his recorder and mobile phone confiscated as he was recording clashes between students from Egerton University and police officers who had been deployed to the university. According to the journalist, whose name was not disclosed in the media report, police officers also locked him up in a small office at the main gate for an hour. His phone was later handed back to him. Clashes had erupted at the university’s main campus after students protested the imposition of 17,000 Shillings (USD 1700) by the school’s management to cover cost of damages to the University’s property from a previous strike.