Examining Kenya’s Laws on Peaceful Protests Amidst Finance Bill Unrest

Currently, Kenya is experiencing significant public unrest and debate over the Finance Bill 2024. This Bill seeks to introduce several new taxes aimed at generating revenue for the government’s 2024-25 fiscal year budget.

In response to the Bill, public protests organized under the banner “Occupy Parliament” have erupted, with demonstrations taking place in various towns and cities across the country. Activists and ordinary citizens have taken to the streets, chanting slogans and carrying placards opposing the Bill.

The response of the Kenya Police to the protests has been marked by significant confrontation and repression. In their zeal to stop the protesters from marching towards parliament, the Police have liberally used tear gas and water canons. Several demonstrators were arrested and detained in their hundreds as they sought to have their voices heard.

Despite the organizers’ claims that they had followed the necessary procedures to inform the police of their intentions, the police declared the demonstrations illegal, citing issues with the notification documents provided by the protestors. Nairobi Regional Police Commander Adamson Bungei stated that the organizers of the protest did not submit a valid notification document. He mentioned that the only document they received did not comply with legal standards, thus justifying their decision to ban the protests and take measures to disperse any gatherings.

So far, at least one Kenyan has been killed with over 200 others injured during the nationwide protests.

In Kenya, the right to assemble and picket peacefully is protected by the country’s constitution and other key pieces of legislation.

  • Constitution of Kenya (Article 37): This article in the Constitution explicitly gives every citizen the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions to public authorities peacefully and unarmed. This is a fundamental right under the Bill of Rights, highlighting the importance of peaceful assembly in a democratic society.
  • Public Order Act (Chapter 56): This Act regulates public gatherings and processions to ensure public order. It requires organizers of public meetings and processions to notify the police at least three days in advance. The police can impose conditions on the time, place and manner of assembly to prevent disruptions. However, these conditions should not be arbitrary and must aim to maintain public order and safety. Critics of this law have argued that it has sometimes been used to restrict legitimate protests.
  • National Police Service Act: This Act outlines the responsibilities and powers of the police, including maintaining law and order during public assemblies. The police are mandated to facilitate peaceful assemblies and ensure the protection of the participants’ rights. They are also required to use proportional force and adhere to human rights standards in managing crowds.

These laws collectively establish the framework for the right to peaceful assembly and picketing in Kenya. The interpretation and application of certain sections of these laws require a careful balancing of the rights given to Kenyans by the Constitution, and a need to maintain public order.

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