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Kenya: Trial against seven human rights defenders, including four members of 'Bunge La Mwananchi', for alleged incitement to violence
On 30 October 2012, seven human rights defenders including four members of “Bunge La Mwananchi” (The People's Parliament) appeared before the Makadara Law Courts in Nairobi for the latest hearing in the trial against them for alleged “incitement to violence” in connection with a peaceful demonstration organised by Bunge La Mwananchi on 14 October.
Bunge La Mwananchi is a Kenyan grassroots movement which fights social injustice, promotes accountable leadership at all levels, and advocates for police reform as a way of promoting security at the grassroots level. Members of the movement rely heavily on peaceful demonstrations to make their voices heard.
The four members of Bunge La Mwananchi on trial are Mr John Abok, Ms Beatrice Karore, Ms Emily Kwamboka and Mr Francis Sakwa. They are being tried together with Ms Elizabeth Atieno, a member of a local community-based organisation who had joined the demonstration, as well as two defenders from the local branch of Amnesty International who were brought into the case after turning up at a local police station to accompany the rest of group in the process of recording a police statement.
On 30 October 2012, the defenders appeared at the court but the hearing could not go ahead as the witness scheduled to be questioned that day, the Officer Commanding the Police Station (OCS) of Huruma, failed to show up in court. The case was adjourned until 8 February 2013. In the previous hearing on 25 October 2012, two police officers who had a role in arresting the defenders were heard by the court. They maintained that more time was needed to conduct their investigations and requested to have the accused in custody again for at least three days. The defence lawyer responded that his clients were already on bail and could therefore be ordered to appear at the police for the next three days instead of being detained. The court agreed with the defence, and the proceedings were adjourned.
On 14 October 2012, John Abok, Beatrice Karore, Emily Kwamboka and Francis Sakwa took part in a peaceful demonstration in Mathare, a major slum in the Eastern part of Nairobi, protesting against the deterioration of security in their neighbourhood which they attributed to the laxity of the OCS in their area, Officer Catherine Ringera. The protest was prompted by a gruesome murder in which two young residents were hacked to death by unknown assailants.
After she learned about the protest, the OCS sent a police force to disrupt it. The force used live bullets and in the process wounded Beatrice Karore, who led the protest and was hit by two bullets, as well as another young man whose hand was hit by a bullet and who almost lost a finger as a result. After the disruption, the police went on to arrest the two wounded defenders in addition to two other protesters. They were detained at Huruma police station.
On 15 October 2012, the detained were arraigned at the Makadara Law Courts where they were charged with incitement to violence before being released on bail. On 17 October, the accused, accompanied by other members of Bunge La Mwananchi and two supporters from Amnesty International, decided to report to the Pangani Police Station to record a statement. As their entered the premises of the police station, seven members of the group were immediately arrested. On 18 October, all the seven defenders were arraigned in court and charged again with “incitement to violence”. The court rejected claims by the police that the defenders had reported to the station drunk and could be charged with “disorderly conduct” as an additional offence. The arraigned defenders were allowed to pay bail for their release after this new case was consolidated with the previous one and sent to the Makadara Law Courts.
Officer Catherine Ringera has reportedly vowed to take a harsh stance against protesters, particularly those from Bunge La Mwananchi. On an unspecified day, she was reportedly overheard saying that she was going to “send two people six feet under,” so that they could serve as lesson for the rest.
It is not the first time members of Bunge La Mwananchi have faced unsubstantiated accusations of “incitement to violence” following a peaceful demonstration. There is already a pending case in which Ms Ruth Mumbi, the national coordinator of “Bunge La Wamama” (Women's Parliament – a branch of Bunge La Mwananchi with a stronger focus on women's issues) and her colleague, Ms Victoria Atieno, stand accused of incitement to violence in connection with a peaceful demonstration organised on 28 February 2011 to demand the construction of a maternity unit in Mathare following the death of one mother from the neighbourhood while giving birth. They are expected in court, for the next hearing, on 21 February 2013.