LSK sues to overturn order on gatherings

LSK President Nelson Havi (second from right) at the Busia Law Courts on October 8, 2020. [File, Standard]

Lawyers have waded into the political storm pitting President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto by challenging the government’s decision to ban public gatherings.

Through a petition filed at the High Court, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) claims the resolution by the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) was targeting the DP and his allies while allowing the president and his side to continue with their public meetings.

Divergent opinions

“On one hand, you outlaw a meeting that was scheduled to be presided over by the deputy president in Mumias while on the other you allow similar meetings convened by the president and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga to proceed,” said LSK president Nelson Havi.

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LSK argues that the ban on meetings in order to contain political weaponisation of public gatherings was illegal, discriminative and targeted certain individuals.

The society is seeking orders to suspend the directives issued by the NSAC and to stop the police from breaking up public gatherings or seeking to authorise such meetings before they take place.

“The directive is being used discriminatorily and selectively to suppress divergent opinions. It seeks to limit the rights and freedoms to opinion, expression, association and campaign for a political cause and is therefore unconstitutional and invalid,” said Havi.

LSK argued that as a result of the directive, several public meetings have been declared unlawful and banned with the use of brute police force. The society cited Ruto’s fundraiser at St Leo Catholic Church in Mumias East Constituency on Sunday in which the police declined to issue a permit on grounds of security threats and public health instructions to contain spread of Covid-19.

Havi argued that whereas the meeting in Mumias was scuttled, other meetings of similar nature were allowed to proceed, including the national prayer day hosted by President Kenyatta at State House and Raila’s meeting in Bondo where he hosted a delegation of elders from Mt Kenya region.

Last week, Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua, who chairs the NSAC, announced a raft of measures the government had taken to contain the rising political tension in public gatherings. The resolutions were approved by the Cabinet on October 8.

The decision followed the death of two people in Murang’a after two opposing political camps clashed during a church function attended by Ruto.

Among the conditions issued by the security committee was that conveners of public meetings must notify the police at least three days before the event and that those attending must exercise high sense of civic duties.

It also outlawed use of offensive, inciting and threatening language during such meetings; stopped the media from providing a platform for hate mongers and warned that social media users will be held responsible for any offensive message they post.

Peaceful protests

Havi argued that the decision will also affect LSK members who plan to stage peaceful demonstrations and occupy Parliament to enforce Chief Justice David Maraga’s recommendations to the president to dissolve it.

He accused NSAC of using health guidelines issued to contain spread of Covid-19 as an excuse to curtail freedom of association and misuse the Public Order Act which allows the government to ban some meetings.

“The directives by NSAC in being selectively enforced by the police,” said Havi.

LSK wants the court to declare the resolution by the NSAC to contain, restrict and prohibit public gatherings as unlawful, unconstitutional, null and void.

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