President William Ruto has been criticised by opposition and civil rights groups for his threats against business people who opposed his sugar sector reforms.
Amnesty International, and the Law Society of Kenya expressed concern about President Ruto’s remarks, calling them careless and disturbing. They said it was troubling for the Head of State to threaten investors with arrest, deportation, or even harm.
The MPs led by Senate Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo claimed that President Ruto’s attack on billionaire Jaswant Rai, especially when Rai had been abducted, appeared to be politically motivated and aimed at investors who didn’t openly support the president.
“Even though Mr Rai is being accused of frustrating the revival of the sugar industry, there are better ways to address this other than a president of a democratic country issuing callous threats by the roadside,” said Mr Madzayo.
A statement signed by Amnesty International, Haki Africa and the Kenya Human Rights Commission said Ruto’s words taken in their literal meaning constituted a threat to people involved in court cases over ownership and control of Mumias Sugar Company.
The human rights groups said the utterances called into question the government’s commitment to the right to life, and protection of persons against cruel and inhumane treatment.
The constitution, the civil societies warned, guaranteed the rights to life, freedom to live anywhere in Kenya and own property as well as right to life which could not be taken away unless decreed by a court of law.
They stressed the importance of a democratic society governed by the rule of law and highlighted the potential ripple effects of such sentiments on the nation’s stability.
“You can never hear a president of a country governed by the rule of law issue death threats to its citizens. If Jaswant Rai is guilty of the crimes he is accused of, there are independent constitutional institutions to deal with that,” tweeted nominated Senator Beatrice Ogolla.
While acknowledging the decline in sugar production, the Azimio MPs underscored the importance of addressing the industry’s challenges through constructive means.
They said they looked forward to parliamentary proposals aimed at revitalising State-owned sugar companies for the collective benefit.
At the same time, Law Society of Kenya President Eric Theuri criticised Ruto’s statements for challenging the ongoing judicial process and undermining the principles of the rule of law and the constitutionally designated role of the courts as independent arbiters.
“The demand we are making to the president is not only for him to withdraw and apologise for those unfortunate remarks but to allow the due process of law to take its course to its logical conclusion. No one will be above the law, including the president,” said Mr Theuri.
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While o on a five-day tour of Western Kenya on Monday, Ruto told a roadside rally in Mumias that cartels have frustrated the government agenda to revive Mumias sugar Company hinting at employing unorthodox methods to deal with the situation.
“There are only three things. If they want to bring me problems, either they move out of Kenya, I imprison them or they travel to heaven,” said the President on Monday.
As discussions unfolded surrounding the challenges plaguing the industry, the name of prominent business magnate Jaswant Rai featured prominently.
The man in the centre of the attatacks, Rai was abducted by three armed last Friday in Nairobi only to be released two days later without being harmed or any ransom being sought from his family.
Rai and some creditors oppose Mumias Sugar Company’s lease to Uganda-based sugar firm, Sarrai Group which is owned by his brother Sarbjit Singh Rai.
He had moved to court contesting the lease arrangement and the manner in which Mumias Sugar Company was handed over to his brother.
His case is one of several that the President says have to be withdrawn.
“I have told all these people that no one owns anything in Mumias. All these criminals must leave. That company belongs to Kenyans. and we will plan afresh. we will not entertain any cases. They must withdraw the cases and leave,” said President Ruto.
Theuri now accuses the president of failing to uphold his promise of breaking his predecessor’s trend of extra judicial killings and disappearances enforced by police but now seems to use the same old methods to achieve his goals.
“He (President Ruto) is more than willing and ready to use the same set of methods to achieve whatever aims that they have. And so it is that about a lot we are concerned about,” said Theuri
The threats the human rights organisations warned were not only unconstitutional but also an attempt to to return the country to the dark days of repression observing that here has been a worrying culture of impunity as witnessed by misuse of power by the police dutring the recent anti-government demonstrations
Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DCI) officers have distanced themselves from the incident that saw the abduction of the business mogul while Rai has remained tight-lipped on the identity of his abductors and what happened to him.
Ironically when Ruto took power he was so angry with the abductions and disappearance of Mohamed Zaid and Ahmad Khan who were IT experts involved in Ruto’s presidential campaign, and the Kenyan man identified as Nicodemus Mwania their driver .
As soon as he took the oath of office, the irate president ordered disbandment of the elite squad which had been involved in the abductions of the two Indians. All the police officers implicated in the saga were later sacked and prosecuted.