Pangani Police Station was Thursday again the centre of protests as six male MPs readied to spend their third day in stinking cells as CORD principals led by Raila Odinga unsuccessfully tried to see them.
Cold, deflated but defiant, the troubled lawmakers refused to move out of their cells when Raila, Moses Wetang’ula, Kalonzo Musyoka and a host of other political leaders secured permission from Pangani OCS, Benjamin Kaselo, to see them.
The MPs being held at the station are Johnstone Muthama (Machakos Senator), Ferdinand Waititu (Kabete), Moses Kuria (Gatundu South), Junet Mohammed (Suna East), Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati) and Timothy Bosire (Kitutu Masaba). The leaders, who are from the CORD and Jubilee coalitions, were arrested over alleged hate speech.
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Their two female counterparts, Aisha Jumwa (Kilifi) and Florence Mutua (Busia), are being held at Muthaiga Police Station.
At Pangani, the MPs insisted that they could not move out of their cells and wanted the visitors to be ushered into their dingy cells but the police refused, leading to a three-hour standoff.
The OCS, too, refused to allow the Opposition leaders to the corridors of the cells where the MPs were detained.
The OCS told the CORD leaders he would not allow them to the cells, although some lawmakers’ relatives had been let in.
Hundreds of supporters camped outside the station shouting and demanding the MPs’ release. At one point, there was panic when a tear-gas canister went off by mistake outside the station.
There were tense moments as a contingent of anti-riot officers and water canons were deployed in readiness for action.
The CORD leaders demanded that the detained MPs be granted their rights, insisting they be released unconditionally.
Raila demanded freedom for the six MPs held in Pangani within the next 24 hours or there would be unspecified consequences.
“They are being held so as to be humiliated and to pass a message. This amounts to detention without trial and authoritarianism,” he said.
Mr Kalonzo said the MPs were being denied their rights.
“They should be released forthwith because what is going on is a gross abuse of their rights,” he said.
Later, CORD issued a statement threatening mass demonstrations if they were not released in 24 hours.
But State House Public Communications Senior Director Munyori Buku said: The MPs are in custody because a court of law has directed so, not the Government or the President as CORD claims. CORD should stop the threats because they will change nothing and they should know once you break the law, you should be prepared to face the consequences.”
But even as the political heavyweights protested, a police officer was seen carrying a plastic bucket full of food, which he cheekily said was being taken to the MPs. On being asked what the menu was like, he simply said it was ugali and some pieces of meat. Inside the bucket was a pile of cheap melamine plates and sparkling stainless steel spoons.
The only lawmaker who was exempted from this dreary food was Mr Muthama, whose ration was delivered in a hot pot because, as some of his relatives explained, required a special diet owing to his health.
Some MPs took the meals provided by the police authorities while others declined.
And as Raila and his group prepared to leave the station, the MPs resigned themselves to a long day and cold night where the last meal for the day was served at 3pm, breakfast 6am and lunch at 12.30pm.
Muthama’s sister, Esther, complained that she had not been allowed to see him and provide him with food.
“We do not know why they do not want us to see him,” she said Esther.
One of Muthama’s lawyers, Simon ole Kamwaro, complained that he had been barred from seeing the lawmaker despite his ill health.
“It is the right of every Kenyan to have access to a lawyer but I have been told I can’t see my client and I don’t know why,” he said.
Mr Junet’s wife, Faiza, said unlike the first day, her husband and other colleagues looked jovial.
“They have been given fresh clothes although they have not taken a shower and they look better today. You know there is no bed or blanket,” said Faiza. The wives of Bosire, Kuria, Waititu and Ngunjiri were also at the station and were all allowed to see them. They declined to address journalists.
Asked how the MPS had spent the night, officers said since there was no TV or any other form of entertainment, the MPs had been talking to each other and had slept in the early hours of the morning.
Those who saw the MPs said they all interacted freely irrespective of their political affiliation, although some MPs complained of cold and flu.
Police said they had been ordered to allow only the spouses of the MPs to the cells. They were also allowed to provide them with clothes and food. They had not, however, taken a shower as there is no water in the cells. The MPs’ toilets were cleaned by other suspects being held at the cells.