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The state must protect Senator Omtatah from constant attacks


 Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah addresses the media at Parliament buildings ,Nairobi where he opposed 'President Ruto's unwarranted threats and insults directed at the Judiciary. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

This week Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah was attacked again. Over the last year, he has faced several public attacks and raids on his office and home designed to intimidate him from his legislative and litigative duties as an opposition parliamentarian.

Given Kenya’s post-colonial history of assassinations and recent weaponisation of state agencies against political opponents under the past administration, we have serious grounds to worry what might happen next.

The Wednesday attack in Busia found the Senator away from his rural home but left his wife injured after being brutally assaulted. If their family members had not intervened to protect her, it is frightening to imagine what might have happened to her at the hands of the attackers enraged that the Senator was not home.

Kenya has a terrible history of state instigated political assassinations over the 60 years of independence. Our current democratic freedoms are literally watered with the blood of several elected representatives we honour now but were killed either by state action or inaction and the failure to protect.

They include Pio Gama Pinto (1965), Thomas Joseph Mboya (1969), Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (1975) and Dr Robert Ouko (1990).

More recently, several Kenya Kwanza politicians indirectly and directly experienced risks of secret squads, arbitrary kamata kamata arrests, detentions and extrajudicial killings. The experiences of Cleophas Malala, Dennis Itumbi and Rigathi Gichagua remain fresh for them, their families as well as their supporters.

President William Ruto committed before the nation that his administration would not repeat this culture under his watch.

Senator Omtatah is a seasoned public interest litigator. His tireless defence of the Constitution, public finances and the rule of law goes back over a decade. While a member of the political opposition, his defence of the public interest and CoK Article 1 of the Constitution long, precedes his election as Busia Senator. This track record has earned Citizen Omtatah, as he is affectionately called, several national awards. It could be argued this also secured his seat in the Senate.

Senator Omtatah is no stranger to intimidation and physical violence. Anyone who knows him well will tell you that he is fearless and when convinced of his cause, courageous to the last moment.

The recent series of public verbal attacks and night raids must worry and cause those that believe in our constitutional freedoms to act to protect. Over the last nine months, Senator Omtatah has reported that his office has been raided, he has received indirect and direct threats.

The attacks do not seem random or disconnected. They have occurred at times when he has spoken up or litigated successfully against the widely unpopular taxes within the Finance Act or the mandatory SHIF and Housing programme levies.

On 16th December 2023, President Ruto was quoted by the mass media as stating that those who seek court action to stop the affordable housing project were enemies of Kenya. Further that the sword he held while taking the oath to protect the people and Constitution of Kenya was not for cutting vegetables.

His remarks were chilling at the time. In the context of the persistent attacks on Senator Omtatah, the remarks must not be seen by any state agency or individual as licence to break the law and violate human rights.

Article 3 (1) of the Constitution requires all Kenyan citizens and state officers to respect, uphold and defend the entire Constitution. This clause not only enshrines our right to dissent, question and campaign against any proposed policy or practise of our 47+1 governments but requires us to act when we see something unlawful or against the public interest.

In this context, his call for the consistent attacks on an elected legislator to stop and protection be provided is now necessary.

Senator Omtatah’s constituents, his parliamentary colleagues, the Law Society of Kenya and human rights organisations must also demand his protection.

His actions are provided for under the Constitution and laws of Kenya. The threats and intimidation against the Senator must now cease. Those must be arrested and charged.

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