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Taveta Deputy OCS Gabriel Orel, on May 19, testified after he arrested eight people who wanted to protest the neglected healthcare system in Taita Taveta county.

Taveta police arrested the eight, including two MUHURI staff, on March 4 and charged them with assembling “unlawfully” and “contravening” Covid-19 protocols. They denied the first count, while the prosecution dropped the second charge.

The arrested were a mixture of young and old, men and women, all victims of poor health services in public hospitals. 

They are Sharlet Ndiga, 51, Cecilia Mukonyo, 65, and Mariam Matiku, 59. Others are Alex Mzasi, Ruphas Ngura, Mohamed Ali, and MUHURI’s Kelly Aduo and Francis Auma.

The eight wanted to protest the run downed health system in Taita Taveta county. Photo: Ernest Cornel.

The eight went to the street because the county refused to act on their demands, including hiring more health workers and equipping public hospitals, most lacking drugs.

What Deputy OCS said

Orel told the court that he received a tip-off indicating people were holding placards and a banner around the Taveta airstrip. He claimed there were “rowdy” boda boda operators.

But Orel admitted that the eight were peaceful and not violent, contrary to the tip-off. He said they did not have any weapons but seven placards and a banner with messages criticizing the rundown healthcare system in the county.

“The writings displayed their displeasure at the condition of Taveta sub-county hospital,” Orel told the court.

The eight did not resist arrest, Orel said. Three women walked themselves to the Taveta police station, and Orel escorted them, he added. The Deputy OCS admitted they did not arrest the “rowdy” boda boda operators.

Orel said he blocked the peaceful protest because his boss, OCS, had declared it “unauthorized,” even though locals had notified the police.

“When I stopped them, they told me they had the right to demonstrate,” Orel said.

The hearing continues on June 8.

Dysfunctional health system

Medics in Taita Taveta started striking last November, and locals reported their kins dying in hospital because no one was attending to them. Medical workers were demanding delayed salaries, Personal Protective Equipment, remittance of statutory deductions, and more.

The industrial action resulted in a dysfunctional health system: maternity, pediatric and cancer care, in-patient, and renal services collapsed.

The trial was to begin April 22 before Taveta Magistrate Adesa Louser. The public prosecutor pushed it to May 19, saying witnesses, all police officers, were way in Mombasa on official duty.

[VIDEO] Public health advocates to wait longer before trial starts