Kenya: Protect the right to protest

Kenya: Protect the right to protest - Civic Space

We, the undersigned organisations, are concerned that State authorities continue to criminalise Kenyans who exercise their right to peaceful protest, subjecting them to harassment, use of force, intimidation, and bringing unlawful charges against them. We are deeply concerned over the circumstances and manner of the arrest of Julius Kamau, Minoo Kya, Clinton Ojiambo, Nahashon Macharia, and Anthony Kanyiri, which only confirms the State’s continued trend of suppressing the right to protest, particularly when those demonstrating criticise the government and/or public officials. We also note the increase in threats to these fundamental rights and freedoms in the run-up to August’s elections and the continued propagation of such repression through the National Police Service. 

On 7 April 2022, Kenyan activist Julius Kamau was violently assaulted by three plain-clothes police officers, and thrown into a police lorry before being transferred into a police van, and subsequently held at the Central Police Station in Nairobi for allegedly creating a disturbance. Kamau was protesting over the continued increase in the cost of living and calling for a reduction in food prices in the country ahead of the budget reading by the Treasury Cabinet Secretary on 7 April 2022.

The protest had begun online as part of the #NjaaRevolution. People protested against the rising cost of living and lower food prices, among other issues. Two days after Julius Kamau was arrested, on 9 April 2022, four other protesters – Minoo Kya, Clinton Ojiambo, Nahashon Macharia, and Anthony Kanyiri – were arrested and held at Mwiki police station in Nairobi County while participating in further protests linked to #NjaaRevolution activism.

The right to protest is guaranteed under Article 37 of the Kenyan Constitution. 12 years after the promulgation of a very progressive Bill of Rights in the Kenyan Constitution, it is disappointing that rights are still treated as privileges. The right is also guaranteed under regional and international human rights instruments ratified by Kenya, including Article 11 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Banjul Charter) and Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Further, spontaneous protests are not illegal, as stipulated by the African Commission Guidelines on the Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa. The Guidelines operationalise the implementation of Articles 11 of the Banjul Charter by State parties and all relevant stakeholders.

For the avoidance of doubt, one does not require the permission of the police to protest. Under the Public Order Act and other International Human Rights instruments, the rationale for notification is for the police to provide security for the protesters and must not be misconstrued as an obligation on those who wish to protest to seek ‘permission’ from the police. In itself, a lack of notification is not sufficient reason to characterise a protest as unlawful. We strongly condemn the inhuman actions of the police officers, whose conduct not only contravenes numerous constitutional and legal provisions but is a clear demonstration of the repressive nature of Kenya’s National Police Service.

We, therefore, call on the National Police Service and the concerned State Organs: 

  1. To desist from arresting protesters under the guise of an unlawful assembly;
  2. To respect the right of everyone to peaceful and unarmed assembly, and to demonstrate, picket, and petition as guaranteed by Article 37; 
  3. To respect the Constitution of Kenya, as well as Regional and International Human Rights Standards, regarding the exercise of fundamental human rights. The exercise of human rights are guaranteed and are not mere declarations; 
  4. To respect the tenets of human rights and Article 24 of the Kenyan Constitution, which are clear on the rationale for limitation of rights and fundamental freedoms, that is, in accordance with the law and only to the extent that a limitation is reasonable and justifiable.
  5. To investigate and initiate disciplinary action against the police officers who unlawfully arrested the protesters in an inhuman manner.

Signed by: 

ARTICLE 19, Eastern Africa 

Civic Freedoms Forum (CFF)

Crime Si Poa

Defenders Coalition

Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)

Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI)

Red Vests Movement

Tribeless Youth

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