Taveta Law Courts on July 2 put eight public health advocates on defence.
Magistrate Louiser Adisa ruled that a sufficient case has been established against the eight. Police arrested them on March 4 when they wanted to protest the poor healthcare in Taita Taveta.
“The standard of proof required at this stage is not that of beyond reasonable doubt as the court has not had the advantage of hearing the defence,” Adisa ruled.
“I have evaluated the evidence on the record and I am satisfied that a prima facie case has been established against the accused persons.”
Adisa set a defence hearing for August 4.
The police arraigned the eight on March 5 at Taveta Law Courts after the arrest.
The State has been prosecuting its case since and closed it on June 23 after three witnesses, all police officers, testified.
Police alleged the eight had assembled unlawfully and contravened Covid-19 protocols.
The prosecution charged the group of activists and locals with assembling illegally. It dropped the alleged offence of breaking Covid-19 rules.
Taveta locals, after months of advocating and failing to get better healthcare—including the hiring of more medics and equipping of public hospitals—took to the streets. Police stopped them.
The arrested 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.
Freedom of assembly
Court records show the group had notified authorities about their peaceful assembly, but police said it was “unauthorized”.
Locals went ahead with their plans because the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. Police busted the assembly in clear violation of the law.
All the prosecution witnesses told the court that the eight were not armed or violent, thus could not breach the peace, defeating the elements of unlawful assembly.
“They had 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,” Taveta Deputy OCS Gabriel Lorere told the court on May 19.
Another officer, Mwinyi Shughuli, added on June 23: “Placards only contain writings and cannot be used as weapons.”
One of the placards had this text: “Afya yetu, haki yetu (health is our fundamental right).”
Despite police alleging over 100 people had assembled illegally, Shughuli told the court they did not have evidence to back their claim.
“We didn’t take pictures,” he said, adding that the eight did not resist an arrest.
Shughuli said they arrested the eight because they did not have facemasks, hand sanitisers or water that are part of the measures to control the Covid-19 spread.
Another witness, Nicholas Kimanzi, added: “we (police) could not allow it (peaceful assembly) to happen because of the pandemic.”
Surprisingly, the prosecution dropped the charge of “contravening” Covid-19 health protocols, which police had arrested the eight for.
Police alleged the arrested had the intention to commit a crime, but after cross-examination, Kimanzi said: “They did not commit any crime”.