Take action against offenders in protests

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023 09:22 | By

Destruction of property during the Azimio demonstrations was not only irresponsible but also unacceptable.  While the law guarantees freedom of assembly, the liberty demands greater responsibility.

Destruction of property is unlawful and goes against the spirit of what the organisers explained to be the intention of the demos. It hurts the very people whose grievances the organisers wanted to articulate.  The demos also came with significant disruption of family routines as well as businesses. 

The dreams of a university student were cut short after he was shot dead by police. Article 37 of the Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and states that ‘every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions to public authorities’.

 This right can only be ‘limited by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable, justifiable in an open and democratic society.’  Under the Public Order Act, an assembly may be stopped or prevented when there is clear, present or imminent danger of a breach of the peace or public order. The restrictions may also be imposed “in the interests of national security, peace, public safety and the protection of the freedoms of other citizens.

Though they may be well intended, demos by the political class have tended to violate the freedom rights of others by participants. Hundreds of Kenyans did not report to work while businesses didn’t open for fear of routine looting in political protests.

The law says that while organisers are supposed to encourage peaceful conduct of an assembly, liability should be personal, against the person who committed the criminal acts. We call for fair and speedy action against offenders as a deterrence measure.

There are questions about police conduct in the demos, with organizers accusing them of brutality against protestors. According to the Independent Police Oversight Authority, during riots, officers should avoid threatening body language, confrontational appearances or the display of weapons or other equipment such as riot gear in a way that could be perceived as intimidating participants of an assembly. As we demand urgent action against criminals, we remind authorities that the state has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of those peacefully assembled.

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