Kenya: Court Strengthens Meeting Rights

://allafrica.com/stories/201205220769.html

Courts are ruling that meetings deserve equal public services in what commenters say is a good sign…

Kenya: Right Triumphs Over Might in Law

By Ngunjiri Wambugu, 21 May 2012

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opinion

When the police cancelled the Limuru 2B meeting last month several people argued there was no need to challenge what was clearly an injustice. It seemed that Gema’s decision to abrogate on itself the right to determine who all those of us from the three communities would vote for was not meant to be challenged.

It was also clear that our calls for nationalism amongst Kenyans as we head to the general election were unwelcome as far as some powerful individuals in Central Kenya were concerned. The use of police might to scuttle our legally convened meeting was meant to show that we were also a powerless minority in this discourse.

However, several principles exist that show that might is not necessarily more powerful than right. The Pareto principle says that roughly 80 per cent of the effects of most events come from the efforts of 20 per cent of the participants…

…Immediately after the cancellation of the Limuru 2B meeting I filed a petition in the High Court against the four senior police officers who were directly involved in this action. In our first appearance in court, the judge directed that I also include the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police in my suit, which I did through an amendment. Despite the security concerns associated with a private individual going against such powerful officers I had campaigned too hard for the new constitution to stand aside and watch some people pooh-pooh it so contemptuously.

I needed the court to clarify what my rights were in regard to freedom of assembly.

On Friday May 18, exactly 30 days from the controversial cancellation, Justice Lenaola confirmed that what was done was illegal when he ordered the police commissioner to provide security for the next Limuru 2B meeting that we have rescheduled to May 30. The judge even quoted the relevant clauses in the constitution that support our rights to hold such meetings; clauses that have been in force since August 2010 when we promulgated the new constitution.

The ruling has clearly vindicated those of us who insisted that the cancellation of the April 18 meeting was illegal. The judge basically said that according to the supreme law of the land the police must provide adequate security for public meetings as long as those attending are peaceful and unarmed.

All media coverage of the last attempt to hold Limuru 2B showed unarmed peaceful Kenyans trying to get to the meeting, which means the police had no right to scuttle that meeting; in fact on that day the only people who were violent were the police themselves! It should be noted that police spokesman Eric Kiraithe’s excuse that the meeting was to be a re-launch of Mungiki has not featured in the entire court process so far.

However, what is even more important is how this ruling affects the various political mobilisation initiatives in regions like Central Kenya. By confirming that the right to free assembly is not subject to state officers the court has hamstrung those used to leveraging state power against political opponents. Now one can publicly mobilise in areas like where I come from, where for a while it seemed ‘illegal’ to follow a different political ideology to that of Uhuru Kenyatta.

The court has now opened up the field for public meetings where even the non-elite (majority) with no access to security services can hold meetings with the guarantee they will be protected by police. I can even foresee such structures coming up to compete against elite-led parties like the recently launched TNA (The National Alliance). Clearly in today’s Kenya, right eventually triumphs over might

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