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Former CJ faults State over civil rights abuses

By Roselyn Obala | March 1st 2021

Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and Narc Kenya Party Leader Martha Karua have faulted the Executive and Judiciary for clawing back gains on civil liberties.

Mutunga (pictured)  took issue with some judgements that he claimed were politically driven and outside the legal framework, as well as the use of excessive force by police officers against opposition voices.

The leaders called for concerted efforts to safeguard democratic rights. Karua and Mutunga said citizens feel strongly about infringements on freedom of speech but were reluctant to fight for these rights for fear of attracting government scrutiny.

The Narc leader, former CJ and Ugandan human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiya warned that the situation is worsening and called on the public to be alert to avoid a slide into autocratic rule.

“The Judiciary is a reliable partner in ensuring civil liberties are upheld. However, there are divisions among judges, with some developing progressive jurisprudence outside the Constitution against eviction, gender and human rights issues,” said Mutunga.

“There is still a strain that seeks to be an appendage of the Executive and Parliament. There is judicial politics. They say judges and magistrates speak through judgements; this is a lie.”

Mutunga, however, affirmed that the Judiciary has excelled in some areas like when the Supreme Court nullified the presidential election in 2017, receiving accolades from across the world.

“The Kenyan judicial petition is one of a kind, as well as that of Malawi which received praise all over the world. We should speak in one voice on ethnic, religious and gender grounds among others, and they will not divide us. But if we are divided, they will just walk in,” he said.

He praised judges who have remained true to the cause and ruled in favour of justice and not the establishment.

The former CJ was speaking at a Nairobi hotel during the launch of a study sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom to support NGOs focused on justice, police reforms, media and civic literacy.

The research listed corruption, unemployment, poverty, healthcare and abuse by the police as major concerns by the public.

On her part, Karua noted that: “We have been silenced by framing from the government and adopted by media. We have lost the media and we need positive framing.”

Opiya faulted Ugandan media, saying they thought they are immune to the plight of the people.

“During a meeting with UN officials and country offices and the opposition, they were not spared. They were clobbered. The media had divorced its role as protectors of civil liberties,” he said.

Kenya Editors Guild President Churchill Otieno, however, challenged the leaders to reflect on the realities media stakeholders face.

“A lot of challenges are being voiced by the alliance. The legal and policy frameworks available, do they adequately address the same? Entities bashing the media should reflect on the reality of the day where it is under attack from those who think its coverage is negative,” said Otieno.

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