Kenya finance bill: Anti-tax protesters traumatised by abductions, say lawyers

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Some described how their phones and laptops were confiscated and they endured horrific experiences in dark rooms.

“Most of them are visibly shaken and they do not want to talk,” Faith Odhiambo, the president of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), told the BBC.

The youth-led protests began last week, with thousands of demonstrators marching largely peacefully in the capital, Nairobi, and across the country against a controversial finance bill that would have increased taxes.

But tensions flared sharply on Tuesday afternoon after police officers opened fire on protesters outside parliament which was breached by the crowds.

At least 23 protesters were killed in the violence on Tuesday, according to a doctors’ association

The next day, President William Ruto bowed to pressure and said he would withdraw the bill, passed by MPs on Tuesday.

He also reaffirmed his electoral promise to end state-instigated abductions as a political tool amid the wave of disappearances.

His deputy, Rigathi Gachagua, blamed the police’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) for the abductions.

On Wednesday, Mr Ruto said that all abducted individuals had been released but rights groups dispute this – and Ms Odhiambo said as the president spoke 12 people were still missing.

“But two have [since] been located. One of them was yesterday found dumped in a tea plantation butt-naked,” she said.

Many of those released had no physical injuries but had been left so traumatised that they did not want to speak about their experience, the LSK president said.

“Some were left in plantations outside Nairobi, while others were thrown on the roadsides and left really shaken.”

Some said they now just wanted to go to their village homes as they do not feel safe in the city and others spoke about leaving the country altogether, she added.

Most of them are below the age of 30 and had been plucked from the streets or their homes by plain-clothed gunmen believed to be police officers.

Most had been vocal about the anti-tax protests on X Spaces, a feature that allows users to host live audio conversations with others on the platform formerly known as Twitter.

They said their abductors had asked them about their contribution to the protests and who was funding them.

“Some of them were asked who was giving them the protest ideas,” Ms Odhiambo said.

George Diano, one of the first abductees, in a post on X, external detailed some of the trauma he had undergone and asked people to pray for those who were still missing.

“It’s never easy at the hands of those bloody animals. Many won’t talk but they really do you dirt,” Mr Diano said.

Austin Omondi, a doctor popularly known as Ja Prado on social media, who had been organising blood donations for those injured during the protests, was also abducted.

He was held for six hours and later released after doctors threatened to strike, Davji Atellah, the secretary general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists Dentists Union, told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

“He has not talked since he came from custody because he was given threats against his life if he disclosed what took place when he was kidnapped,” Mr Atellah said.

The state-funded Kenya National Human Rights Commission said it had helped secure the release of more than 300 people who had been “illegally detained”. It is thought this refers to people arrested while demonstrating.

Chief Justice Martha Koome has condemned the abductions, saying they amounted to a direct assault on the rule of law.

Earlier, the High Court approved the use of military force to restore order given how police were overwhelmed during the protests.

A judge said that the military deployment was critical to protect government installations but gave the authorities two days to clarify how long the deployment would last, along with its rules of engagement.

Mr Mwaura told the BBC the withdrawal of the finance bill was a “huge blow to the government as it left a “big hole” in the budget.

“It is really a big setback,” Mr Mwaura said, blaming “misinformed” Kenyans for opposing it.

“There was a very well choreographed campaign, both locally and internationally, to misinform and disinform people so that they can create a revolt.”

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