Linking Rights Groups To Terror Activities is Counterproductive Says CJ Mutunga
Blanket condemnation and linking human rights groups to terror activities could hamper their operations and cause damages to their reputation as human rights defenders. These sentiments were made by the former Chief Justice Dr Wali Muhammad Mutunga who emphasized on the important role civil societies play in the fight and championing for the rights of citizens as he urged the government to shift course and reverse its efforts to clamp down on independent organizations.
Appearing as witness before judge Dora Chepkwony at the Mombasa High Court on Monday while giving evidence in a case where Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) sued the government for linking it with terrorism, Mutunga said that such accusations have the potential to harm the reputation of the organization. In the case, MUHURI sued the attorney General, Inspector General of Police and Central Bank of Kenya for damages when it was linked to the Somalia militia group Al-shabaab in 2015. The organization is seeking compensation for the damages it incurred during that time. “A lot of leaders would go underground and be traumatized if they are accused of carrying out such activities and once an organization has been linked to terrorism, it is much like a death sentence as it stops receiving funds” said Dr Mutunga who is a founder member of the Mombasa based human rights group.
He spoke of being shocked and traumatized after MUHURI was linked to terrorist activities in 2015. ”I was shocked, I wanted to call the Inspector General of police to ask about the issue, but I was the President of the Supreme Court, therefore I could not call to ask, because I respected the decision of the IG. MUHURI is an organization which conducts itself within the Constitution and the law and it is a respected human rights organization with activists who respect the rule of law” he added.
Apart from financial implication which affected the operations of the organization, he said the employees suffered public anger, ridicule and the stigma and even doubted whether they have been lured to work in an illegal entity.
The MUHURI chairman Khelef Khalifa accused state agencies of defaming him saying he suffered loss and damages to his reputation as a human rights defender. He said the action by the government had greatly hampered their operations because the could not access funds for their day to day operations. No public apology has still been made for the ‘illegal and unlawful’ acts which led to the loss and damage it has suffered on its reputation both locally and internationally. The matter will be coming up on December 17 for further hearing.
Muhuri and another Mombasa based human rights organization, Haki Africa were among several organizations that had been deregistered and barred from operating in the country after the sector regulator, the NGO Coordination Board cancelled their licenses on the premise that they engaged in acts of terrorism. it took eight months for the accounts of MUHURI and HAKI Africa to be unfrozen following order from the Mombasa High Court.
There were days when government minions and spivs were harassing law abiding citizens by labeling them terrorist or sympathizers either as a show of might or extortion. While the situation has improved there are still many languishing in prisons or whose names have been tarnished by labeling them terrorist. Disappearances and extrajudicial killings, while reduced, is still a problem mostly in Muslim families. Many disappeared people are still missing.