Government must revisit its commitments

anti-Finance Bill demos

Police officers arrest a protester in Nairobi during anti-Finance Bill demos on June 25,2024.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

In the stillness of the night, when the bustle of day ebbs into the calm of the dark, families in Kenya now face a new terror. Over 50 individuals, including influential social media personalities like Austin Omondi, Gabriel Oguda, Shadrack Kiprono and Nadia Nthia, were abruptly abducted in the past week. What's more alarming is the justification of these acts as lawful detentions, despite the victims being found far from their homes, a gross misuse of power that echoes through the empty promises of the Kenya Kwanza government.

The Kenya Kwanza coalition, in its manifesto dubbed “The Kenya Kwanza Plan”, committed to ending police abuse against urban youth. In soaring speeches, the coalition principals vowed not to use the criminal justice system to suppress alternative political voices. This was to be achieved by enhancing oversight through the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and the National Police Service Commission (NPSC). They also pledged to create an ombudsman to monitor human rights violations and to put an end to extra-judicial executions by security services. Yet, the recent events contrast these lofty promises, revealing a government in stark dissonance with its commitments.

The individuals targeted in these abductions were primarily vocal critics of the Finance Bill, 2024, using their platforms to challenge and debate the potential repercussions of such legislation. The targeting of these individuals suggests a disturbing trend towards silencing dissent through fear and coercion, leveraging the state's machinery against its citizens—a tactic painfully reminiscent of darker times.

Under Kenyan and international law, every individual is entitled to the fundamental rights of due process and fair treatment. The commando-like abductions violated these individuals' right to freedom and security of person. They were arrested without just cause, detained without trial, subjected to both physical and psychological torture, and stripped of their dignity. The arbitrary nature of these abductions, the lack of formal charges or legal procedures, and the subsequent discovery of these individuals in locations far from their homes, all constitute a blatant violation of these rights. The actions undertaken under the guise of 'arrests' undermine not only the rule of law but also the very principles of democracy and human rights that Kenya professes to uphold.

The need for judicial intervention cannot be overstated. Kenyans have legal recourse, and any person has the right to institute court proceedings claiming that a right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights has been denied, violated, infringed, or threatened.

For the state to gain confidence with the Kenyan populace, a comprehensive and independent investigation into these abductions must be initiated, not only to bring justice to those wrongfully detained but also to hold accountable those who misuse their power. This case is not merely about the enforcement of a financial statute; it is a litmus test for Kenya's democracy and its adherence to the rule of law.

Ms Nyakio is a Communications & Human Rights consultant. Mr Mburu is a NOREC Fellow currently attached to the Johannesburg African Judges and Jurists Forum.