Cablegate: Civil Society Activists Spend Christmas in Jail

DE RUEHNR #2706 3651012
O R 311012Z DEC 09



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Civil Society Activists Spend Christmas in Jail

1. (SBU) Police arrested twenty-two members of Bunge la Mwananchi
(The "People's Parliament" in Swahili) on December 24, 2009. The
Bunge members were holding a peaceful demonstration to call for the
resignation of Minister of Education Sam Ongeri, who has been
implicated in a recent scandal involving the theft of
donor-provided education funds. The activists were charged by the
police with unlawful assembly, and taken to the Kibera Law Courts
where the magistrate dismissed the case as Bunge la Mwananchi had
filed the required notice of intent to demonstrate with the police
on December 22 (Note: the police have stated that they asked the
Bunge members not to demonstrate on Christmas eve. End note.).

2. (SBU) The police did not release the activists as directed by
the court, and instead returned the Bunge members to Nairobi's
Central Police Station. On the morning of December 26, the lawyer
for Bunge la Mwananchi called the Ambassador and poloff alleging
that the activists were being detained illegally, had been denied
food and water while in custody, and that two elderly women among
the detainees were suffering from medical problems. According to
Bunge chairman George Nyongesa, who was among those being held, one
of the senior officers in charge of the station directed that the
activists be treated "like prisoners." The Bunge members were then
stripped of their shoes and socks, were placed in a cell next to
the common toilets, and were periodically denied water and access
to the latrines. Two of the detainees were allegedly beaten on
Christmas night. Three elderly women suffering from medical
problems were at first denied access to medical care; following a
hospital visit police confiscated their prescribed medication.

3. (SBU) Calls from poloff to the commanding officer at the
Central Police Station confirmed that the activists were being held
without charge. Kenya Police Service Commissioner Mathew Iteere
subsequently told the deputy director of the Kenya National
Commission on Human Rights Hassan Omar Hassan that the original
charge sheet had been filled out by an illiterate police officer,
and that the Bunge members would be held until Monday, December 28
when revised charges would be filed. Both the commanding officer
at the Central Police Station and Police Commissioner Iteere
refused to release the activists, despite the lack of charges and
court-ordered release.

4. (SBU) The Bunge members were finally released on bail in the
afternoon of December 26 following a call from the Ambassador to
Minister for Internal Security George Saitoti.

5. (SBU) The activists appeared in court again on December 28 to
answer a revised police charge of unlawful assembly. The police
prosecutor is utilizing a 1930s-era colonial statute which
criminalizes any gathering of more than three people without
specific police approval. Lawyers for Bunge la Mwananchi plan to
appeal the constitutionality of the statute to the High Court;
trial for the activists has been set for February 22.

6. (SBU) Comment: The Christmas eve arrest of Bunge la Mwananchi
activists is the most recent episode in a long history of
government harassment of the group. Political leaders are
sensitive to the group's success in mobilizing low income casual
laborers to demonstrate against government impunity. Throughout
the year, Bunge members have reported to the Embassy credible
allegations of arrest, abductions, and intimidation at the hands of
the police; the police point to occasional instances of violence as
justification for repressing the group's activities. Police
determination to prosecute the December 24 march-which was by all
accounts peaceful-is likely driven by a vendetta against political
activist Omkoiti Omtata who has been particularly outspoken against
government corruption. Post will continue to follow this case
closely and urge the government to drop its prosecution of what was
clearly a peaceful exercise of Bunge's rights to free speech and
assembly. End comment.

© Scoop Media

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