Human rights activist Maina Kiai fears the Kenyatta regime is adopting a hardline approach to civil liberties after he was detained at Nairobi airport
A former UN expert on the right to free assembly has warned of a crackdown on civil liberties in Kenya, after he was detained while trying to leave the country.
Maina Kiai, a human rights activist, was held for up to two hours at the country’s largest airport while trying to board a flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam on Sunday. Campaigners said it was the latest in a series of attempts to harass activists, following the country’s recent disputed elections.
“It’s something that has never happened to me before,’” said Kiai. “I went to the immigration counter to get my passport stamped, as we all do when we leave the country. The attendant said, ‘Would you please wait in the room, the boss wants to talk to you.’”
Kiai, the former UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, was told he needed clearance to leave the country. After speaking to the media, he was able to contact to the director of immigration, who eventually allowed him to board his plane. “He said, ‘Oh, sorry, it’s a misunderstanding, you can fly now’. He refused to tell me why I was not questioned,” Kiai said.
Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, an NGO that protects human rights activists, said the organisation had recorded several similar cases.
“Harassment and restrictions on the movement of internationally respected human rights defenders like Maina Kiai follow a pattern of threats to [human rights] defenders in Kenya, and indicate that the government has something to hide,” said Anderson.
I’m worried this regime will take an Erdogan approach to civil society, human rights and civil liberties
Last week, Kenya’s NGO regulator attempted to shut down two human rights organisations that have been involved in election monitoring, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and the African Centre for Open Governance.
Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for east Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, branded the regulator’s actions “an unlawful and irresponsible move in this critical post-election period”.
Kiai, who sits on the board of both organisations, said: “I’m worried that this regime will be quite harsh and take an Erdogan approach to civil society, human rights and civil liberties.”
Human rights groups reported that 24 people were killed during post-election protests, after Uhuru Kenyatta won a second five-year presidential term by a margin of 9%.
Kiai has called the election illegal and said Kenyatta threatens to take the country backwards. He added that the government’s crackdown has been legitimised by the international community, which said the election was fair and called on the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, to concede defeat.
“Those countries that declare to us that they have values of human rights and values of civil liberties, that they care about democratic values, I would want them to keep to that,” he said. “Otherwise, they should be like the Russians and the Chinese, who do not pretend, they are very clear.
“It’s a Kenyan struggle and we will find it within us to continue that struggle whether or not western countries support us. But it is sad and disappointing that they will speak from both sides of their mouth.”
He added that government attempts to silence Kenya’s human rights activists were having the reverse effect. “The state is trying to send a message to people that they will clamp down and they will not tolerate any dissent.
“Rather than intimidating, the state is mobilising and inspiring activists to come out.”
On Friday, lawyers representing the Kenyan opposition coalition National Super Alliance filed a petition with the court disputing the outcome. The court must rule by 1 September.