Anti-tax revolt: State accused of abductions, intimidation

Boniface Mwangi leads a team of activists to present a petition at the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road on June 24, 2024. [John Muchucha, Standard]

The nationwide tax protests driven by Generation Z have been rocked by a series of ugly daylight abductions, raising questions about the motive behind these actions.

In a span of one week, social media has reported at least three instances of abductions involving supporters of the protests.

The latest case involves Shadrack Kiprono, commonly known as Shad Khalif, who has openly opposed the Finance Bill, 2024, and appeared on mainstream media criticising the government.

Retired Chief Justice Willy Mutunga led a team of activists opposed to the Finance Bill 2024 to present a petition at the DCI headquarters on Kiambu Road yesterday regarding the abductions.

“Abductions are unconstitutional,” said Mutunga at Mazingira House, the headquarters of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

In the abduction of Kiprono aka Shad Khalif, CCTV footage has emerged showing three unidentified masked men roughing him up and forcing him into what appears to be a white Land Cruiser before speeding off.

The abduction reportedly happened on Sunday evening in South B Estate.

“This was not an arrest, as the men who manhandled Shad did not identify themselves or engage in any conversation. These are criminals,” stated Faith Odhiambo, the president of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK).

“We condemn the sustained unconstitutionalities and atrocities being perpetrated by the police and demand the immediate release of Shad,” added Odhiambo.

The #FreeShad campaign hashtag has been circulating online to petition for his release. His whereabouts remain unclear.

The LSK president alleged the government could shut down the internet to curtail the recent unrest.

“Censorship or restricting access to social and mass media will be unlawful and counterproductive at this time,” stated Odhiambo.

Activist Boniface Mwangi told journalists at the DCI headquarters, “Two Subarus attempted to kidnap us on Friday outside City Mortuary, but we managed to escape. We’re here to tell the DCI to arrest us or allow us to protest peacefully.”

Dr Austin Omondi, popularly known as Japrado, a medic who has been vocal in the anti-Finance Bill campaign, was also subjected to similar treatment.

While running a blood drive at Sikh Union grounds for the victims of the recent brutalities, Omondi was rounded up and taken away in a car identified with registration number KCU 819H.

Similarly, an online campaign was held pushing for his release, with posters circulating on social media.

A report was made at Pangani Police Station about the abduction. His family and legal representatives were allegedly denied access to him.

Dr Omondi was eventually released on Sunday at around 8 pm after the cries of Kenyans on social media platforms. He confirmed his release on X, saying, “I have been released.”

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Secretary-General Davji Atellah said on X, “Our colleague Austin Omondi has been released. We condemn in the strongest terms possible the impunity of this government. The threats, intimidations, and acts of fear-mongering cannot work.”

When Billy Simani, popularly known as Billy, The Goat, was abducted last Friday afternoon, a Twitter space was set up by activists running for close to eight hours, petitioning for his release.

Simani was abducted by men suspected to be police officers.

According to the LSK president, upon arrival at the supposed police station, he was nowhere to be found and apparently not booked at the facility.

Simani has since said that he will soon communicate about his ordeal while in police custody.

Activist Hussein Khalid of Vocal Africa said they are ready to die in defending the rights of Kenyans against over-taxation.

“We don’t fear arrest; we don’t fear death. We are ready to die,” he stated.

“We are wondering what the true motive of these incessant abductions and State intimidations is. These protests are robust and people-led; no one is behind them but the people themselves,” added Khalid.

In the wake of the anti-Finance Bill protests, many youth have taken to social media to narrate how they have narrowly escaped kidnappers and have been trailed by suspicious people.

Wambui Zuena, a youth who led Nyeri protests, sent a voicemail to Shadrack Kiprono before his disappearance, saying some people were trailing her movements.

“Last night I arrived home at around 1 am and realised that someone was following me. Earlier, I heard one of my friends had been caught.’’

[Ivy Wanjiru, John Mwangi and Cliffe Omondi]