Human rights NGOs face closure and possible arrest of their leadership
On 14th August 2017, the NGO Coordination Board within the Kenyan government revoked the Kenya Human Rights Commission's (KHRC) official registration on the grounds of alleged tax evasion, the operation of four illegal bank accounts and the employment of foreigners without valid work visas. KHRC has refuted the allegations in several TV interviews and at a press conference, claiming that the government's actions are politically motivated. According to KHRC Executive Director George Kegoro, who spoke with Capital FM news, the organisation was allegedly deregistered to prevent it from issuing a legal petition challenging the recent re-election of President Uhuru Kenyetta. Similar allegations were previously leveled against the KHRD, and these issues were adjudicated before the high Court of Kenya in 2015 (KHRC vs. NGO Coordination Board 495 of 2015), which ruled that the deregistration of the organisation and the freezing of their accounts was unconstitutional, null, and void. KHRC plans to challenge the Board's decision.
In addition to KHCR, on 15th August the NGO Coordination Board ordered the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to immediately shut down the African Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) and arrest its directors. The NGO Coordination Board claims that AfriCOG operates without proper registration under the 1990 NGO Coordination Act. Such an offence can carry a prison sentence of 18 months if convicted. The NGO Coordination Board has also advised the Bank of Kenya to freeze all bank accounts and funds of AfriCOG. Executive Director of AfriCOG, Gladwell Otieno, asked the courts to compel the Independent Election and Boundaries Commission to open the electoral roll for public scrutiny prior to the August election. The NGO Coordination Board has no mandate over AfriCOG's operations as it is registered under the Companies Act. Civil society organisations in Kenya can be registered under several laws.
The Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) together with Kenya Police officers attempted to gain entry into the AfriCOG offices on 16th August 2017 at 10:30 AM without prior notice and with defective supporting documentation. The attempt was quelled by the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Fred Matiangi, who called for a committee to work with the NGO Coordination Board to review the status of both organizations, but also called for the suspension of their activities for 90 days while they are under review.
Kenya: yesterday it was the kenya human rights commission, today the NGO board is taking action re: AFRICOG (monitors governance etc) pic.twitter.com/4oAhoE7CLd— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) August 15, 2017
The former UN Special Rapporteur on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai, serves on the boards of KHRC and AfriCOG and has come out with several statements condemning the Board's actions and refuting the claims that have been used to justify the crackdown on these organisations.
"If you want to arrest me, I am here." https://t.co/L5fzdtLWvO— Maina Kiai (@Maina_Kiai) August 15, 2017