Saturday 17 February 2018

Kenya suspends plans to shut down rights bodies

Kenya suspends plans to shut down rights bodies
(AFP 08/16/17)

Kenya's interior minister on Wednesday suspended plans to shut down two rights bodies, a move that had raised alarm and suspicion just days after a hotly disputed election.

The country's NGO board, a regulatory body attached to the interior ministry, had earlier this week moved to shut down the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) as well as the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG).

Officials from both organisations viewed the move as highly suspicious at a time when they are weighing legal action over last week's presidential election, which opposition leader Raila Odinga claims was rigged in favour of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

"Every single thing happening at this moment rotates around the elections... it is all about keeping this election as opaque as possible," said Maina Kiai, a board member of both bodies.

On Wednesday morning, police and revenue authorities tried to search AfriCOG's headquarters but were denied access, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.

Shortly afterwards, Interior Minister Fred Matiangi released a statement urging the NGOs Coordination Board to "suspend any action (against) these organisations for up to 90 days" pending an exhaustive review of their status.

The board had said it was acting against the KHRC over unpaid taxes, a lack of work permits for foreign staff, and illegal bank accounts.

It requested police shut down AfriCOG and arrest its members because it was registered as a business and not an NGO and was therefore illegally operating as a "charitable organisation".

- 'Very alarming' -

"We interpret this as an attack on two of the most prominent human rights organisations in this country," said Amnesty International regional director Muthoni Wanyeki.

"Motives for that attack are hard to determine, but coming at the time that they do... it is certainly very alarming."

Civil society members saw in the move yet another attempt by Kenyatta's government to clamp down on their activities.

Haron Ndubi, a lawyer for AfriCOG, said Kenyatta has a "vendetta" against rights groups who played an active role in seeing him indicted at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for his alleged role in orchestrating violence that left over 1,100 people dead after the disputed 2007 poll.

In 2014 the ICC dropped charges against Kenyatta citing the disappearance of witnesses and lack of evidence.

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