Kenya dispatch: law student leaders abducted as Kenya lawyers push back against violent suppression of Finance Bill protesters Dispatches
© Law Society of Kenya
Kenya dispatch: law student leaders abducted as Kenya lawyers push back against violent suppression of Finance Bill protesters

Aynsley Genga is JURIST’s senior Kenya correspondent. She files this report from Nairobi.

It’s still Wednesday 26th June, and so much has already happened in Kenya since the anti-Finance Bill demonstrations began last Tuesday. We have had civilians being kidnapped, protesters being killed, residents of the Githurai district of Nairobi being massacred in the middle of the night by the government’s General Service Unit (GSU), the parliament building being sacked as well as the Nairobi Governor’s office in City Hall being set on fire. Members of Parliament (MPs) who voted yes for the bill have had their businesses boycotted by the people, while others have found their establishments destroyed. The theme of the week has been the anti-Finance Bill movement; it is all most people are talking about. We have even had some employers giving their employees the afternoons off so that they can also participate in the protests.

Everyone has been affected by this bill, including the people in the legal arena. Last week on Tuesday we had lawyers being tear-gassed by police at the Central Police station while trying to advocate for the release of innocent protestors who had been arrested. We have had several law students who have been abducted by police. Two were abducted on Tuesday 25th June at around 4am. They were released later on in the day after the police received pressure from the Law Society of Kenya (LSK). We in the legal world thought those would be the last abductions but unfortunately today at around 2 pm it was discovered that Joshua Okayo, the Student President for the Kenya School of Law (KSL), the professional preparatory school for the Kenya bar, had been taken in. Joshua is my class representative and during our afternoon classes, word of his abduction started spreading like wildfire. Moreover, a colleague of his admitted that the police had questioned him on the whereabouts of Joshua before it was discovered that he was missing. Everyone in school is trying their best to get the word out on his abduction in order to apply more pressure on the police. The president of LSK, Faith Adhiambo, has come out to condemn the actions of the police and demanded Joshua’s release.

In a statement released Wednesday evening, the Kenya School of Law Student Governing Council said:

We are deeply concerned and alarmed by the sudden disappearance of Joshua Okayo, the President of the Kenya School of Law Student Association. Joshua, known for his vocal opposition to the recent finance bill and his active participation in media discussions and physical demonstrations, has been an unwavering advocate for the rights and welfare of KSL students. His commitment to seeking justice and calling for the release of detained students has made him a prominent figure in our community.

Given the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, we fear that Joshua may have been targeted for his outspoken stance and activism. This is a grave injustice and a direct threat to the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, which are cornerstones of our democratic society.

We urgently call on the relevant authorities to take immediate and effective action to locate Joshua Okayo and ensure his safe return. We also demand a thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his disappearance. Joshua’s safety and well-being are of utmost importance, and we will not rest until he is found and justice is served.

We stand united in demanding Joshua’s immediate release and the protection of all individuals who courageously speak out against injustice. We urge all supporters, human rights organizations, and the general public to join us in raising awareness about Joshua’s disappearance and advocating for his safe return.

Additionally, LSK has filed a case against Aden Duale, the Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Defence, whom last night ordered the deployment of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to control the protests. This act was ultra vires  his authority since only parliament has the power to deploy KDF. Furthermore, according to Article 58 of the Constitution, the deployment of police can only take place if the government declares a state of emergency; a state of emergency can only be declared during moments of a public emergency, war, general insurrection or invasion, which never happened.

LSK also released a statement condemning the horrific murders that took place in Githurai yesterday. More than 30 people have been confirmed dead after yesterday’s GSU attack and countless people including women and children have been injured. Faith has therefore called for independent investigations on the Githurai incident. Amnesty International has also come out to condemn the act of the police during this whole period of protests and has stated that the President must take responsibility for protests’ gross human rights violations.

The kidnappings of people in the legal sector come after a police officer recently shot and killed a Magistrate, Monica Kivuti, at the Kibera Law courts. In fact, her memorial service was last week Tuesday. The recent acts of disrespect against the Judiciary have started raising questions on whether the government is trying strip power away from the Judiciary. The Judiciary has always been on opposing ends with Executive but with these recent acts of violence, tensions are definately rising amongst members of the Judiciary.

As of today evening, no word of Joshua Okaya’s release has been heard. Nonetheless, since the government has refused to provide funding for all those who were injured in yesterday’s protests, citizens have come together online and have raised close to Ksh. 1o million for all the victims. Citizens have also been visiting Kenyatta National Hospital to donate blood while others have been visiting City Mortuary in order to pay their respects to the deceased. The unity shown by Kenyans during these trying times is truly heartwarming, though it is unfortunate that it stems from such dire circumstances.

President Ruto also had a press briefing today at 4.30 pm which has just caused further doubt amongst the masses. The President said that he has withdrawn the Finance Bill and at first people were happy. Everyone online was celebrating the victory until various issues started being raised. The biggest issue: can the President of Kenya withdraw a bill? According to Article 115 of the Constitution, only the National Assembly or the person who tabled the bill can withdraw it. Article 115 goes on to further explain that if the president fails to assent/reject and return the bill to the National Assembly within 14 days after MPs passed the bill, then the bill will automatically become law. It is very important to note that our speaker of the National Assembly declared today morning that parliament would be going on recess until July 23rd 2024. The 14-day time limit ends on July 11th, so people online are questioning the validity of this supposed withdrawal. Many online are claiming that the President’s press brief was simply a publicity stunt since he was still advocating for the taxation of imported products such as sanitary towels. He claimed that Kenya manufactures its own sanitary towels so there is no point in importing. This is despite the fact that locally made sanitary towels are more expensive, thus most Kenyan women cannot afford them.

Tensions are definately high, especially in the Mount Kenya region following the killings of the Githurai residents. In Eldoret, there are a few individuals who are trying to blame the protests that have been taking place there on the minority tribes leaving in the area. In Nakuru we have numerous police officers stationed outside the Statehouse there due to people attacking it during the last protests. As it stands, demonstrations for tomorrow are still set to take place. Citizens are planning on matching to the State House in Nairobi. People are demanding the resignation of the President while also considering what will happen if that was to take place. This is because we currently do not have an electoral body, so conducting another election will be difficult. Some are even suggesting that while an electoral body is being formed the Deputy President or the military can take over for the next 90 days. In my opinion, tomorrow will definitely be a game-changer moment for Kenya as a country. This is regardless of whether the protests take place or not. A new page in history is turning in Kenya. But whether it will be for better or worse, only time will tell.