Kenya Kwanza new Bill to counter protests

Police watch as fire razes Jua Kali auto trading and repair centre during protests in Kisumu on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. [Michael Mute, Standard]

Conveners of protests will soon be held liable for damage to property or loss of lives should Parliament pass a proposed Bill.

In a move geared towards curtailing anti-government protests, a Kenya Kwanza Alliance allied MP has introduced a Bill seeking to regulate demonstrations and picketing.

Mbeere North MP Geoffrey Ruku wants any convener and organisation under whose auspices demonstrations are held, be liable for damage to property and those who participate in illegal protests imprisoned for one year.

"Where, during the carrying of an assembly or demonstration, damage to property occurs as a result, every person participating in such demonstrations shall be jointly and severally liable for that riot damage as a joint wrongdoer together with any other person who contributed to the damage...," reads the Bill in part.

To avoid arrest, one must prove he did not permit the damage of property, that the act was not part of their objectives and that the convener of the demonstrations took all reasonable steps within their power to prevent the damage of property and loss of lives.

The proposed law further seeks to bar protestors from wearing any form of apparel that resembles security forces uniform, including the police and Kenya Defence Force, possess offensive weapons or wear apparel or item which obscures their face or identification.

"A person shall not by way of banner, placard, speech or singing or in any other manner incite hatred of other persons on account of differences in culture, race, sex, language or religion," read the Bill.

The proposed law also puts on notice those that convene a public assembly with no or inadequate notice.

"Any person who knowingly contravenes or fails to comply with the notice of a condition to which a demonstration is subject to, commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding Sh100,000 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or to both," says Ruku.

The Bill gives police powers to prevent protesters from proceeding to a different place or from deviating from the route specified in the relevant notice.

Police will also have authority to restrict the gathering to specific place to ensure vehicles and pedestrians are not interfered with, an appropriate distance between participants in rival assembly is maintained and Kenyans access their property and workplaces.

"...police shall have the power to order any participant interfering with demonstrations to cease and take such steps as may be necessary to protect persons and property," reads the proposed law.

Kenyans wishing to demonstrate will also be required to notify authorities at least three days but not more than 14 days before the proposed date of demonstration with the notice required to specify the proposed site or route in case of a public procession.

Ruku urged National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang'ula to convene a special sitting to debate the Bill. "By approving this Bill, we will have the legal framework to go after those that act outside the confines of the Constitution and hold them accountable," he said.

Kenya Kwanza leaders also hit out at Azimio leader Raila Odinga over the anti-government protests even as it emerged the country was losing Sh3 billion a day to demos. Led by Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa, they called for the arrest of Raila accusing him of economic sabotage.

"It is apparent that Raila does not care about the future of this country because he will not be in it...we cannot continue applying the law selectively and he should be arrested over the destruction of property," said Barasa.

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