Kenya: Police must stop arresting protesters

Kenya: Police must stop arresting protesters - Civic Space

 ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa condemns the arrest of health workers in Kajiado County during a protest to demand their outstanding wages and better pay.

On Friday, 2 July 2021, police officers in Kajiado County arrested 12 health workers protesting to demand better pay and their 6 months outstanding salaries from Kajiado County Government. They were released on a police bond on Saturday, 3 July 2021.

This comes just a few days before the ‘SabaSaba march of our lives’ scheduled for 7 July 2021. SabaSaba is a day commemorated every year in Kenya and traces its origin to 7 July 1990, when protesters gathered at Kamukunji to oppose the then oppressive regime, a move that was critical for multi-party democracy in Kenya. The authorities declared the 7 July 1990 pro-democracy rally illegal and were believed to be responsible for the severe beating of two of the promoters of the protest three days before the protests. Despite the authorities declaring it illegal,  the rally took place. During the rally, police used tear gas and the then President later ordered the arrest of the reform proponents.

In 2020, ARTICLE 19 called on the police to protect protesters during the ‘SabaSaba march of our lives’. However, police used tear gas to disperse the march and arrested over 50 protesters, effectively paralysing it. This was despite the protesters complying with the COVID-19 protocols put in place at the time.

Mugambi Kiai, the Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa said, “The fundamental duty of police officers during a protest is to respect and protect the rights of protesters. However, what we see from time to time in Kenya is that police officers are too quick to arrest participants of peaceful assemblies either based on COVID-19 regulations or criminal law on illegal assemblies. Over time, citizens have become very wary of exercising their right to protest freely. The National Police Service must demonstrate their commitment to protecting this right by refraining from arbitrary arrests of protesters.”

ARTICLE 19 has warned that governments also should not use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to stop protests. This is critical since a complete suspension of protests denies citizens the opportunity to keep their governments accountable. A complete ban of protests would provide a veil of darkness which would only encourage the further violation of rights with impunity.

The findings of a survey conducted by ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa in 2020 indicated that among the people who are informed about the right to protest, 51% do not participate in protests for fear of victimisation by police or other security personnel. This is because more often than not, police will respond with violence in Kenya. This has created a culture where people refrain from exercising the right to protest being wary of the likely eventualities of arrest or use of force.

“Disproportionate force can turn an otherwise peaceful protest into a violent one. It escalates the interactions between the people and police. This is especially so in a country like Kenya where there is broken trust between the community and the police. A human rights-based approach to manage protests is therefore central to the free exercise of the right to freedom of assembly. Police must manage protests from the understanding that individuals are exercising a constitutionally guaranteed right” continued Kiai.

ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa demands that the authorities drop the charges against health workers in Kajiado county who appear to have been exercising their constitutionally-guaranteed right to peacefully protest. Further, the National Police Service, through the Inspector General of Police, should ensure the respect and protection of protesters during the ‘SabaSaba march of our lives’ on Wednesday, 7 July 2021.