(Nairobi) – The Kenyan government should stop harassing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the country’s coastal area, Humans Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Civil Society Organizations Reference Group, and National Civil Society Congress said in a statement today. The harassment and intimidation of the groups, Haki Africa and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), is connected to their legitimate human rights work, the groups said.
Kenyan authorities placed MUHURI and Haki Africa, both of which work to promote human rights in the country’s coast region, on an official list of alleged supporters of terrorism. The bank accounts of both organizations were frozen by the Kenyan authorities without advance notification. Both groups are challenging the actions in court.
“Haki Africa and MUHURI are working to protect human rights in Kenya under difficult circumstances,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Haki Africa and MUHURI should be supported for their human rights work, not harassed and intimidated.”
Mombasa-based Haki Africa and MUHURI have been engaged in legitimate human rights work by consistently documenting human rights abuses in Kenya’s coastal region. They have also raised allegations that security agencies have engaged in extrajudicial killings of Muslim clerics and alleged terrorism suspects at the coast.
The region, which has a large Muslim population, has experienced a series of attacks by armed groups, including the Somalia-based al-Shabaab. Security forces have responded by detaining and abusing local residents, and forcibly disappearing and killing suspects.
The work of the two groups in the coastal area is essential to the advancement of human rights and the rule of law in Kenya, the groups said. Both organizations have been on the record condemning violence and have consistently worked for peaceful coexistence among communities at the coast.
“Haki Africa and MUHURI have done a commendable job in documenting and reporting on human rights abuses at the coast,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes. “Rather than investing time and resources in targeting the two NGOs, Kenyan authorities should focus on addressing the concerns they have been raising.”
Despite the fact that the organizations’ case is pending at the High Court, Kenyan authorities have taken further punitive administrative actions against them. On April 20 and 21, 2015, Kenyan tax authorities raided the offices of both groups, disabling the servers and carrying away hard disks and documents, allegedly to determine whether they have been involved in tax evasion.
On May 28, the NGO Coordination Board, Kenya’s national regulatory authority for nongovernmental groups, announced it had cancelled the registration of the two organizations, claiming they have underreported their income. It also raised questions about the membership of the boards of MUHURI and Haki Africa. The NGO Coordination Board failed to show any irregularity in the composition or operation of either organization’s board.
The executive director of the NGO Coordination Board, Fazul Mohammed, subsequently announced that Kenyan authorities had determined that Haki Africa was not registered at all and has been operating illegally. In fact, Haki Africa is a project of Haki Centre, which was registered by the board on July 25, 2012, rather than a separate organization. Haki Centre has since 2012 been filing annual tax returns with the board, which has acknowledged the returns.
MUHURI was registered in 2008 after operating as a project of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) for 10 years. MUHURI has filed regular annual tax returns and other administrative documents with Kenyan authorities since 2008 and the board has acknowledged the returns. MUHURI has continued to work closely with the KHRC and other national and international human rights organizations.
The annual returns of the two organizations and the acknowledgments from the board have been publicly available at the NGO board and on the websites of the two groups until their servers were disabled by the officials of Kenya Revenue Authority in mid-April 2015. No previous concerns had been raised over their registration status.
“The crackdown on Haki Africa and MUHURI are the culmination of the long-running hostile rhetoric by pro-establishment individuals,” said Regina Opondo, co-chair of the Civil Society Organizations Reference Group, a consortium of 200 Kenyan human rights organizations.
The Kenyan authorities should facilitate a positive working environment for nongovernmental organizations and ensure they are regulated in accordance with the Kenyan constitution and Kenya’s obligations to respect freedom of association under international human rights law, the organizations said.
Article 20 of Kenya’s constitution provides that “the Bill of Rights applies to all law, and binds all State organs and all persons.” Such “law and State organs” include the NGOs Coordination Act, 1990 and its board.
The authorities should end their harassment and intimidation of Haki Africa and MUHURI, remove them from the list of terrorist supporters, and restore their registration and bank accounts.
“The treatment of Haki Africa and MUHURI threatens the freedom of action of all independent organizations operating in Kenya,” said Suba Churchill Meshack, coordinator of the National Civil Society Congress, a network of 457 Kenyan nongovernmental organizations and social movements. “The government’s threat to independent organizations threatens the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of all Kenyans.”