DPP Haji to drop charges against all rights defenders arrested unfairly

DPP Noordin Haji

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Directorate of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) will withdraw all cases against human rights defenders who were arrested illegally and charged falsely by police officers during past evictions, police operations, protests and related incidents.

DPP Noordin Haji asked victims to forward their names to his office to kick-start the process.

“If we get those names, [we] as the ODPP shall withdraw the charges and make sure that they are not arraigned in court. Police officers must do their work within the confines of the law,” he said.

Mr Haji spoke at a forum on public access to justice organised by Amnesty International-Kenya and held at Aga Khan Walk in Nairobi’s city centre.

A group of six young men from Mukuru kwa Njenga who were arrested and falsely charged with robbery with violence in protests over last year’s evictions were amongst the victims hoping to be set free by the court following Mr Haji’s declaration.

The six were arrested for being part of a crowd protesting the evictions. They were shocked to hear that they would face multiple charges of robbery with violence allegedly reported at about 10 other police stations across Nairobi.

They had to flee their homes to avoid forceful detention and now they want the authorities, including the Judiciary, to have their names cleared.

Statistics shared by Amnesty International show that over the last three years, at least 50 public interest activists were arrested yearly for exercising their lawful right to protest.

“Excessive bail and bond amounts and burdensome processes currently discourage public interest defenders from exercising their freedom of association, assembly and expression,” said Mary Airo, the national coordinator of the Paralegal Society of Kenya.

“Different orders have negatively impacted families affected by forced evictions in various courts. Survivors of gender-based violence remain unprotected by our forensic capacities and the state’s reluctance to [activate] the National Coroner’s Service Act.”

She spoke at the event also attended by Amnesty International- Kenya Executive Director Irungu Houghton, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, police spokesman Bruno Shioso and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA).

Expensive to file cases

With an average monthly income of Sh15,000, a majority of slum residents find it hard to file cases in court as they must part with up to Sh20,000 for a single case

“The fact that it is expensive to file cases means there is something each one of us can do to make it cheap to access justice. At our level at the Judiciary, we have been implementing a number of reforms towards improving access to justice,” Justice Mwilu said.

These include “strengthening the Small Claims Court, supporting alternative dispute resolutions mechanisms and developing pro se litigant manuals and simplifying processes and procedures that our courts and tribunals employ”.

She added that the Judiciary had adopted a bottom-up approach long before the words became a political slogan. The goal, she said, was to speed up access to justice by reaching out to the lowly and vulnerable through the Small Claims Courts.

Mr Shioso said reforms in the National Police Service are still underway to align police work with the expectations of citizens.

“We are the blue line standing between good and bad, ensuring that the majority enjoy their freedoms and are not preyed upon and disadvantaged by the evils of society,” Mr Shioso said.

Though challenges abound in reforming the National Police Service, improvements are visible in police observance of human rights, especially during this year’s August election, said IPOA chairperson Anne Makori.

“Particularly, we note that no life was lost. We commend this and hope that it will be replicated in future,” she said.

The Law Society of Kenya, Amnesty International-Kenya and the Paralegal Society of Kenya urged the Ministry of Interior to increase funding for legal literacy, decongest prisons and police stations and promote swift resolution of cases.

The organisations also want the ODPP to expedite cases on police killings and enforced disappearances and resolve them within 36 months.

They also called for an end to the use of contempt of court proceedings to intimidate journalists, whistle blowers and public interest defenders and criminalise their work.

“The criminal justice system should be preserved for the worst forms of speech that threaten peace and security and civil defamation and other complaints proceedings preferred instead for misreporting and defamation,” the three organizations said in their joint statement.