15 December 2008

Jamhuri Day Drama

Four television and radio personalities were among 53 people who were arrested by police in day-long protests in parts of the country during Friday's Jamhuri Day celebrations. Many were arrested as they arrived at Nyayo Stadium dressed in black T-shirts with the inscription “No Tax, No Tax utado? (What will you do)?” Many of them were held by police for more than six hours before they were released. Some were held for two days.

Mr Mong’are was wrestled to the ground and kicked by senior police officers as he made his way into the stadium dressed in clothes resembling those worn by prisoners to symbolize impending imprisonment of media if a Bill passed by Parliament on Wednesday is signed into law.

Presidential security officers descended on Mr Odhiambo after he shot up from his sit and started shouting. He was sitting about nine yards behind the President; it is not clear how he got entry into the VIP dais. President Kibaki who presided over the ceremony was forced to cut short his speech after Mr Odhiambo caused a stir. The Head of State had just started giving his off the cuff speech in Kiswahili when Mr Odhiambo suddenly started shouting.

“They descended on him and mercilessly carried him off, covering his mouth so that he could not be heard,” a civil society organization said.

Shortly before the incident, an angry President who had apparently been appalled by heckles and shouts of ‘njaa, njaa tunaka chakula na MPs walipe ushuru’, (hunger, hunger, we want food and MPs must pay taxes) had said:

Wapigane wale wanataka kupigana.” (Let those who want to fight do so). The President had made the remarks after a section of the crowd shouted at him when he started giving his Kiswahili speech. However, the crowd was silent when he was delivering his Jamhuri Day message in English.

At the dais, the VIPs appeared shocked by Mr. Odhiambo’s protest. Those who sat near him had started to walk away. Others watched in horror as the security agents wrestled him covering his mouth while struggling to eject him from area.

In local papers on Sunday, it was reported that Odhiambo had been severely beaten and tortured while in the police cell. He spent Friday night in solitary confinement, without food or water. He is currently hospitalized.

Before the celebrations had started, police had embarked on cracking down on members of the civil society who had vowed to stage protests at the venue. They wanted to show their dissatisfaction with the Government following the high cost of living. The civil society members also wanted to protest against a move by MPs to shoot down a motion requiring them to pay taxes.

On Sunday, the police unleashed their dogs and lobbed teargas canisters at the battery of journalists who were recording the showdown with the protesters. Police also cordoned off Uhuru Park leaving many families that had come to visit the park with no option other than to sit on the benches and grass outside the park.

The huge green police trucks and Landrovers packed at the entrances of the park, coupled with the anti-riot police in full gear evoked vivid memories of similar scenes witnessed early this year. The last time the park was closed to the public was during the post-election violence that rocked the country at the beginning of this year after the disputed presidential election results.

The protesters then moved to Langata police station where some of their colleagues are being held. Similarly, the news conference that they were holding was disrupted when teargas was lobbed at them. Having been thrown out of the police station, the group moved and blocked all lanes of Lang'ata road, next to the Army barracks.

One of them stripped momentarily on the road while she changed into a white t-shirt. She was wearing a black one with the message: Wakenya tumechoka (Kenyans are tired), enough is enough." Others wore those emblazoned: "No tax for MPs, no tax for me, Mta-do?", "Kenyans are hungry, and where is the maize" and Wakenya tunataka haki yetu (Kenyans want justice).

The US ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger, and his German counterpart held a press conference. “The role of the media in a democratic society is important. The press must be allowed to operate without government interference,” said Ranneberger.

The government has remained silent on the various incidences that occurred on Friday.

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