Kenya’s court sentencing of human rights activists is a setback to democracy

February 28, 2022

Hivos strongly condemns the sentencing of five human rights activists in Kenya’s Mombasa County.

On February 22, 2022, Lucas Fondo, Francis Auma, Tirus Mukami, Felix Otieno and Nato Michael were sentenced to a six-month probation for allegedly “participating in prohibited gatherings around the country on 25 August 2020 and additionally failing to adhere to social distancing rules that are set out in the covid-19 Public Health Rules.”

The activists were peacefully demonstrating against the abuse of Covid-19 funds in the country and denouncing the ineffectiveness and lack of transparency in management of public resources.

Hivos applauds the Kenyan government for the measures it has taken to curb the spread of the virus. However, we have witnessed rampant and continued human rights violations meted out on citizens indiscriminately under the guise of controlling the spread of Covid-19.

It is worth noting that the status of human rights in Kenya has been on a downward spiral since the beginning of the pandemic. From police brutality to harassment and mass arrests of human right activists, civic and democratic space is under constant siege by increased restrictions, heavy surveillance and pushback on dissent by authorities.

There is a fear – and a high risk – that judicial decisions such as this one will set precedents for future decisions and put at risk democratic and constitutional protections as enshrined in Article 37 of the Constitution.

It is critical that, irrespective of possible future pandemic outbreaks, the central focus of the criminal justice system should always be to uphold, promote and advance human rights.

This precedent sends a chilling message to human rights activists in the country and sets a record in retrogressive judicial rulings that silence important freedoms and rights necessary for the functioning of any democracy.

We stand in solidarity with the activists and join civil society in calling for a fast and speedy appeal to this ruling.

Our message to Lucas, Francis, Tirus, Felix and Nato is that your voices will not be silenced. As we work together to appeal this draconian ruling, we will continue to push for just, fair and inclusive democratic spaces in Kenya.