Once upon a time, State critics used to be picked by security agents from their homes, offices, university classrooms or wherever, and held in custody by the dreaded Special Branch at Nyayo House or Nyati House for days on end.
After untold torture, they would be taken to court at odd hours where a selected judge and prosecutor would be waiting, not to be freed but mostly to plead guilty to trumped up charges and handed down jail sentences. Those seen as more radical were not offered these luxuries. They would be sent straight to detention without trial. This impunity is part of the reasons Kenyans fought for the rights and freedoms they are entitled to under the 2010 Constitution.
Article 49, which deals with the rights of arrested persons, states in section (f) that an arrested person should be brought before a court as soon as reasonably possible, but not later than 24 hours after being arrested; or if the 24 hours end outside court hours, or on a day not a court day, the end of the next court day.
In recent years, however, we have seen the State liberally violate these rights, leading to concerns we may be heading back to the dark old days.
While the immediate former regime devised what came to be known as “kamata kamata” Friday, in which persons were arrested on Fridays, meaning they had to spend the weekend in custody, the current one’s actions this week are more worrying.
In the period leading to and during Azimio protests, several individuals, including MPs and aides of senior politicians were rounded up and taken into custody with their families and lawyers not being made aware of their whereabouts.
Again, the 24-hour rule was ignored. In the case of Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, who was arrested at JKIA on Tuesday evening, he spent 36 hours in custody at Wang’uru police station in Kirinyaga. He was only brought back to Nairobi after his family was tipped of his whereabouts and made a scene. On Friday, when he appeared in court, police were determined to take him into custody.
So much so that they disregarded the independence of the Judiciary and even kicked out journalists. Defence lawyers claimed they were barred from processing bail at the registry.
Worryingly, there were claims by Babu’s co-accused that they were tortured in custody by a team of 18 led by an officer one of them positively identified in court.
By yesterday, the whereabouts of other arrested persons, including Mathare MP Anthony Oluoch, former Mungiki leader Maina Njenga and Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s bodyguard Maurice Ogeta remained unknown.
There is reason for Kenyans to get worried. They did not fight for the 2010 Constitution, even paying the ultimate sacrifice, only to relapse to this level. We must jealously guard our rights and freedoms.