Stephen Kinuthia Mwangi, administrative coordinator with Mathare Social Justice Centre in Nairobi, was arrested twice for no apparent reason last week. MSJC believes this harassment by the state is a direct result of its work in the slums of Mathare, especially documentation of extrajudicial executions by the police.
I would like to document that I was arrested today, 25 June, morning in Donholm outside of my apartment by plain-clothes officers. They had no elaborate reason for their suspicion or need for arrest. This is the second time in five days that I have been hand-cuffed by plain-clothes officers, and the fact that this arrest was done outside my house confirms that they have been following me.
On Tuesday, I was arrested late at night while I was going home on a boda boda [motorcycle taxi]. The rider and I were detained at the Kariobangi roundabout for four hours before I was able to convince the police officers to let me go.
Today while arresting me, one of the officers grabbed me by the shoulder while the other one was talking on the phone and mentioned to someone over the line ''ndio, tumempata...'' [yes, we have him]. It seems that they were reporting my arrest to someone else. This got me really scared and I asked to be let go, asking for an explanation for the statement by the officer on the phone. I called Prof. Yash Ghai, whom I had just talked to, and let him know that I was being arrested. They demanded to search my belongings. I had with me a black polythene bag where I had put some shoes I had bought at Gikomba Market earlier in the morning. Although hesitant, I let them search. They demanded to take me with them to the station for a search. I refused. One of them, growing angry hand-cuffed me and pushed me forward away from the gate. The caretaker and bystanders had now started to get concerned and were watching from a distance.
The officers led me towards the road, asking about what I do for a living and why I had the 'Machozi Ya Jana' t-shirt on me. By this time, I had been made to remove my camouflage jacket and they had removed everything from the pockets (keys, coins, a paper I had written some notes on and two phones). I demanded to make a phone call to an advocate or a relative but they refused.
At this point, it became clear to me that they were serious and didn't mean to abide by the provisions of Article 49 of the constitution – The rights of an arrested person. I decided to create a scene. I grabbed a boda boda rider whom I frequently use and asked him to go to Mathare Social Justice Centre’s office and let them know that I had been arrested and that the officers claimed to be taking me to Central Police Station.
The short-tempered one dragged me by the road and tried to push me in front of a moving car. Luckily, I crossed back and held on to the other officer who seemed to listen to me. They made me walk while still asking whom I work with and, especially, why I thought I could tell the officers what to do. They called me arrogant and let me know they could do with me as they wished. By this time my phone was constantly ringing but the officers refused to give it to me.
They led me past a church, behind Greenspan estate. There I refused to move any further. The hot-tempered officer kept pushing on and trying to drag me. All the while I kept asking to make a phone call and to be notified of the place they were taking me. They made me stand and talked to me for about 20 minutes. They let me know that they knew Willy Kimani [a Nairobi lawyer and activist believed to have been assassinated by police last year] and that he had died for the same arrogance as mine; that they could still carry me away in front of everybody and kill me far off; and that they did not care about my knowledge of the law. One of them even threatened to take my phones with him.
At this point I let them know that I had already told Yash Ghai that I had been arrested and if they didn't have any documented allegations against me, I had the right to be set free. They talked to each other. I was given my phone and I talked to activist Gacheke Gachihi. I confirmed with him the arrest and he wanted to talk to them. But they declined. They let me know that they were experienced, and had handled tougher people than me and could arrest me whichever way they wanted.
After this exchange, they let me go. I walked back and called both Gacheke and Yash to notify them of my release.
Although I am still disturbed about the event and how to interpret the words and actions of the officers, I know that my experience is not an isolated case. The coordinators of our Illegal Detention, Police Brutality and Extrajudicial Executions campaign, Anthony Mwoki and Muchangi Nyaga, constantly face threats and harassment from the police. Anthony was arrested and driven around in the boot of a police car on 19 April, see the details here. He also has an ongoing case due to the false accusation of possession of marijuana.
The nature of arrest, custody and policing by the Kenya Police is a traumatising experience and has unfortunately been too normalized and condoned by society. How I could be arrested outside home and in broad daylight without public intervention explains both the fear of the police and the impunity of a police force that has decided to operate by instilling fear and targeting young people and rights defenders with malicious prosecution, torture and executions.
I cannot tell what today's events would have led to, but it is clear to me that the police had taken their time to follow me and perhaps had other motives that were most probably prevented because I created a scene, that I mentioned Yash Ghai and that my phone was constantly ringing.
I believe this harassment has been prompted by the work we do at MSJC, the case that was established against a police officer at Pangani Police Station after I video-recorded her soliciting for a bribe from a mother whose son had been illegally detained. It could also be connected with our advocacy work that recently culminated in a landmark report called: Who is Next? A Participatory Action Research Report Against the Normalization of Extrajudicial Executions in Mathare.
Because of this unwarranted and violent profiling I will be reporting this incident to IPOA and other relevant authorities. I ask for your help following up this situation and creating more accessible avenues for HRDs like myself to seek protection.