Respect for rights by police yet to be seen despite appointment of new head

Association

In April 2019, Hillary Nzyoki Mutyambai was appointed as the country’s new Inspector General of Police. Human rights groups called on him to ensure officers respect the rule of law, enforce outstanding court orders against senior state officials, investigate cases of police killings, and take measures to end unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and other abuses by the police. In his acceptance speech, Mutyambai promised to ensure that police officers - who have in the past had a bad reputation - respect human rights, specifically stating that “nobody in the police service is above the law.” It is yet to be seen whether Mutyambai, whose background until his appointment was in the counter-terrorism unit of the police service, will change the modus operandi of the police as far as respecting human rights is concerned. The counter-terrorism unit of the police service has in the past allegedly undertaken human rights abuses including unlawful killings and enforced disappearances of civilians in the name of fighting terror.

Despite Mutyambai’s appointment and his guarantee to uphold human rights, on 9th May 2019, a 26-year-old man from Tana River who was allegedly captured by Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and disappeared was found two days later with serious injuries. Ahmed Ali is said to have been removed from a bus at Nyogoro, an area along Lamu-Garsen road, during the morning arrest. He was found blindfolded and dumped in the Gamba area with blood stains. According to his brother, Ali allegedly suffered broken ribs after being punched, kicked and clobbered for two days in a KDF camp. Authorities allegedly questioned him about ties to Al-Shabaab, a jihadist militant group.

Condemning the attack and terming it as reckless and against the principles of human rights, Francis Auma, Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri)'s rapid response officer said:

“People are suffering in silence, especially in Tana River and Lamu. KDF operations are becoming violent. They must follow the law.”

In a separate development, on 24th May 2019, Kenya’s High Court upheld criminal sanctions on same sex relations. This decision was made despite testimonies from LGBTIQ Kenyans describing the ways in which the criminalisation leads to discrimination in enjoying human rights. The #Repeal162 campaign, aimed at repealing colonial-era sections of the criminal code on consensual same sex conduct, was spearheaded by Kenyan LGBTIQ human rights defenders and lawyers who filed a petition in 2016 challenging the laws.

Neela Ghoshal, senior LGBTIQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch said:

“Kenya’s High Court has relegated people in same-sex relationships in Kenya to second-class citizenship, based on the absurd claim that the penal code is not discriminatory… Rights cannot be trampled upon in the name of social disapproval. The Court of Appeal should revisit this ruling urgently.”

As LGBTIQ rights remain a controversial topic of discussion in the country, on 8th July 2019, a group of faith based organisations and religious institutions submitted a petition to parliament calling on the government to probe institutions that fund LGBTIQ organisations in the country. In justifying their grounds for the petition, the group cited Kenya’s Constitution, specifically ‘the preamble of the Constitution, which acknowledges the supremacy of the Almighty God and commits to nurturing and protecting the well being of the individual, family, communities and the nation.’

The group identified international donors such as the Open Society Foundations and HIVOS as being among those who finance the ‘LGBTIQ agenda’ in the country, and recommended that the government suspend the LGBTIQ funding activities of the donor institutions in the country.

Peaceful Assembly

On 19th June 2019, hundreds of activists and protesters who had gathered in Nairobi to express solidarity with Sudanese citizens were dispersed by police using teargas as they marched to protest the human rights violations and the silence by African Heads of State that followed the ousting of Sudan’s president Omar Al Bashir. The protesters had planned to march to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Parliament and the President’s office but were prevented by police, despite having notified authorities about the protest as required by law.

The protest followed the killing of at least 100 civilians by Sudanese security forces when the military cracked down on a sit-in by pro-democracy protesters outside army headquarters in the capital Khartoum, an incident previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Amnesty Kenya’s Executive Director, Irungu Houghton, condemned the violent dispersal of the protest and said:

“Violently dispersing protesters who have complied with every legal requirement of the constitution … is an unjustified, unnecessary and disproportionate threat to Kenya’s fundamental right to peaceably and non violently assemble and express their opinion on matters of public interest”.

Expression

On 3rd May, World Press Freedom Day, news consumers, rights activists, media trainers and practitioners pointed to soft censorship as the latest means to whip the media into compliance. Kenyans noted how commercial interests, partisanship, social media and political ownership of news outlets are the greatest threat to media freedom in Kenya. Following World Press Freedom Day, Reporters Without Borders released the 2019 World Press Freedom Index and reported that Kenya had declined in ranking from 96 to 100 out of 180, yet still remains a haven for journalists compared to other East African nations.