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State cracks down on civil society

The government is shutting down civil society groups that questioned the disputed presidential election, their officials said yesterday.

The deregistrations have generated national and international condemnation.

The state says the NGOs are not properly registered and have violated numerous financial, tax, administrative and hiring regulations.

The NGOs call it a purge and a witch-hunt.

This is the latest onslaught in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s war on NGOs — especially good governance, election education and human rights organisations — since he came to office.

In 24 hours,the NGO Coordination Board — the state-run body that registers and regulates NGOs — has written to the
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the Africa Centre for Open Governance
(Africog), saying they risk punishment for administrative and
tax violations.

Their bank accounts have been frozen.

On Monday, there was speculation KHRC was planning to petition the Supreme Court to nullify Kenyatta’s reelection. Yesterday, Executive Director George Kegoro said they will address press conference today on the issue.

The deadline for presidential petitions is Friday.

NASA has ruled
out challenging the presidential results in court but sources intimidated it would use proxies, especially anti-Jubilee right groups. They could petition the Supreme Court to overturn the IEBC declaration of Uhuru as President-elect.

The same deregistration happened in August to the charitable foundation linked to Rosemary Odinga, daughter of NASA flagbearer Raila Odinga, and in May to the charitable foundation of Kalonzo Musyoka, the NASA deputy flagbearer.

International and domestic
observers have said the election process was largely free and fair, but
opposition leader Raila has disputed the official results, showing Kenyatta won by 1.4 million votes.

The NGO Coordination Board is
led by CEO Fazul Mohamed, who in December 2016 was declared unfit to hold office by the Ombudsman. His academic qualifications and suitability have been questioned without success.

He was unavailable yesterday to answer questions arising from his actions.

Mwenda Njoka, spokesman for
the Interior ministry, confirmed that the NGO Board letters circulating on social media were
genuine. Africog and KHRC said they had not received any official
communication.

“This is an attack on any
kind of independent voice,” Africa executive director Gladwell Otieno said.

Otieno repeatedly raised
concerns about what she described as insufficient preparations by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission in the run-up to the General Election.

Both NGOs also
expressed public concern over the unsolved torture-murder of a key election
official a week before the vote.

International rights groups
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein urged the government to
respect NGOs’ work.

“The High Commissioner
called for civil society actors and media to be allowed to work without
hindrance or fear of retaliation,” the UN said, in a statement from
Geneva.

KHRC is chaired by Professor
Makau Mutua, a leading Jubilee critic who has said for the second time he would not recognise Uhuru’s disputed victory. He said the same after the 2013 polls.

“The sins of 2013 have been
compounded. That is why as a matter of my conscience I can’t — and won’t — recognise Uhuru Kenyatta as President,” he tweeted on Saturday.

Almost 24 hours after
deregistering KHRC, Fazul yesterday wrote to the DCI to
shut down, Africog “for operating illegally”.

Africog COG entered the limelight
in 2013 when alongside Cord, it petitioned the election of President Kenyatta.

Jubilee also accused some
NGOs of being used in procuring and coaching witnesses to testify against Uhuru
and his DP William Ruto at the ICC.

In 2013, a Jubilee MP sponsored a Bill to limit NGOs’ foreign funding, a clear attempt to
cripple them. At the time terrorism links were cited.

The legislation was defeated.

It sought to restrict foreign funding to a maximum of 15 percent of NGOs’ total budgets.

During the December 12, 2016, Jamhuri Day
celebrations, Uhuru’s disdain for NGOs was evident. He stated some global powers were sponsoring regime change in Kenya “in the guise of
supporting good governance or civic education”.

Yesterday, human rights lawyer
Haron Ndubi dismissed purported de-registration of KHRC. He said the NGO
Coordination Act that established the Fazul-led board was repealed and the
deregistration decision was therefore null and void.

“At the moment, the so-called NGO Board doesn’t exist and the law upon which Fazul was employed,
too,” he said.

He addressed a press conference by key civil society groups to protest attempts to shut down key NGOs.

Kegoro said it was another attempt to
harass and intimidate them.

The allegations are that KHRC operated
illegal accounts, failed to abide by tax obligations, concealed
transactions in relations to its board members and made false declarations to the NGO board.

Kegoro said this had been a recurring matter, dispensed with in court last year.

“Therefore, it is a travesty
of justice that the board, and in particular Fazul, would insist on flagrant
abuse of the office in total disregard of KHRC’s constitutional rights and
authority of the courts,” he said.

Kegoro said they read saw strong government
hand behind Fazul’s actions.

“The brazen nature of this
attempt also calls to question whether this errant public officer enjoys political support to undertake such abuse of office,” he said.

Renowned activist and former UN
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of
association Maina Kiai asked whey the government is encouraging people to challenge election outcomes in court — while at the same time waging war against those who express intentions to do so.

“You tell us to go to
court but deregister the people who can go to court. It is up to the state, not
us, to decide whether they want legal redress or extralegal redress,” he
said. He said the assessment of civil society groups of the election results “had shown lots of inconsistencies’.

“But we have been involved
in this struggle for a long time and would not drop it any time and those who
want to arrest me come do it. Because we do this work not to get benefits but
because we believe in the cause,” he added.

Coalition for Constitution
Implementation Kenya (CCI Kenya), Coalition for Grassroots Human Rights
Defenders Kenya (CGHRD-Kenya) and Bunge la Mwananchi (BLM) also participated in the joint press conference. They said Fazul’s
board became moribund after the passing of the Public Benefits Organisations Act in 2012.

This is not the first time the
government through Fazul has been trying to clip the wings of ‘anti-Jubilee’ NGOs.

Just before the elections, Fazul went for three perceived opposition leaning NGOs in
a spirited bid to have their accounts frozen. Rosemary Odinga’s Kalonzo Musyoka’s and Evans Kidero’s foundations.

On the other hand he has awarded
Sonko Rescue Team and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero campaign as the best performing
public benefit entities.

“Fazul is an enthusiastic
attention seeker. He can’t do without attention. He is either shutting down
supposed state enemies or awarding state leaning organizations like Sonko
Rescue Team.

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