Posted 2013/10/15

Kenya: Arrest and beating of seven human rights defenders, including Ms Ruth Mumbi

Ruth Mumbi with Mary Lawlor at the 2013 Dublin PlatformRuth Mumbi with Mary Lawlor at the 2013 Dublin Platform (© Kamil Krawczak)

On the morning of 15 October 2013, the Kenyan police arrested seven members of Bunge la Mwananchi on suspicion of illegal assembly as they were protesting a 16% tax increase on commodities. Amongst those arrested was human rights defender Ms Ruth Mumbi, as well as Messrs Francis Sakwa, John Koome, Winfred Olal, Chris Michael, Frederick Odhiambo, and John Korir, the current president of Bunge la Mwananchi.

The protesters were beaten at the scene and detained for approximately four hours before being released without charge.

Ruth Mumbi is a community activist, founder and current National Coordinator for Bunge la Wamama (The Women's Parliament), a female branch of the Bunge la Mwananchi movement (The People's Parliament). Both groups carry out campaigns and advocacy on social justice issues. Ruth Mumbi was also a finalist for the 2013 Front Line Defenders Award for human rights defenders at risk.

On the morning of 15 October 2013, Ruth Mumbi and several colleagues from Bunge la Mwananchi assembled in downtown Nairobi with plans to protest against the V.A.T. (Value-Added Tax) Act, which was adopted in September 2012 and has the potential to overburden Kenya's poor. The seven aforementioned human rights defenders were severely beaten by police before being escorted to Nairobi's Central police station, where their belongings were confiscated and they were detained for approximately four hours. The police officers who arrested them indicated that they were being held for organising an illegal assembly. No further details were provided to them during the arrest.

Upon their release, the Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) reportedly announced that, "in the aftermath of the Westgate attack, we don't allow people to assemble". This was a reference to the armed attack on Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi between 21 and 24 September 2013 when 72 people were reportedly killed.

On 14 October 2013, a delegation of the demonstrators had visited the same police station to inform the police of their intention to demonstrate, and the police issued a verbal acknowledgement of the protest. Under Article 37 of the 2010 Constitution, Kenyans are granted “the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.” No form of prior authorisation is required under the law.

Front Line Defenders expresses serious concern at the arrest and severe beating of human rights defender Ruth Mumbi and her colleagues at Bunge la Mwananchi, and at the breach of the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in Kenya's Constitution and international law.

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