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Kenya NGOs listed in probe say the government is 'soiling the names of institutions'

The old neighbourhood of Mombasa, Kenya
The old neighbourhood of Mombasa, Kenya Getty

Some 86 entities in Kenya, including individuals, non-governmental human rights organisations, money changers with Somali names and those who work with the Somali community, have had their bank accounts frozen. This is part of a direct response to the attack at a university in Garissa in early April that killed 148 people.

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RFI spoke to Hussein Khalid, the director of human rights organisation HAKI Africa, via telephone in a taxi after he had left the courthouse on Tuesday, where he submitted all the documents as requested. Khalid says that this goes against Kenyan law.

“I think this move is absolutely unprocedural, unlawful and unconstitutional. The manner in which they’ve gone about it is completely out of practice, condemning someone before giving them a hearing and going against the very law that you’re quoting in the Kenyan Gazette,” he says.

“That is why we’ve also challenged that Kenya Gazette in court because we feel that the government is unnecessarily creating tensions, and more so, soiling the names of institutions like HAKI Africa that have been working very hard to try and narrow the gap between the government and communities.”

Kamau Thugge, the principal secretary for Kenya’s National Treasury, said that the probe would be carried out in "intensive investigation to see whether in fact these suspicious transactions that have been noted by the financial reporting centre are indeed to finance terrorism. We hope that it is an investigation that can be done quite quickly, and from there a decision will be made as to how to proceed going forward.”

International organisations do not agree with the way the Kenyan government has carried out their response to terrorism.

“Kenya must respect the rule of law while countering terrorism. The increased harassment of civil society groups in Kenya is very alarming, and adds to an already profound sense that civic space is shrinking inside the country,” said Santiago A. Canton, executive director of the US-based RFK Partners for Human Rights.

Muhuri, or Muslims for Human Rights, a group based in Mombasa, submitted its paperwork on Monday. Khelef Khalifa, the executive director, says that Muhuri is an inclusive group, and it is not only Muslims who work there. RFI asked if Muhuri was a terrorist organisation: “It’s not true. Not at all.”

“To brand it a terrorist organisation or aiding terrorists, it’s far-fetched. We submit our returns to the government each year, so the government knows exactly what we do. All our funds are coming from Western countries   from Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, and the Open Society and Ford Foundations. So there’s no way our donors will give us money while we’re engaged in terrorist activities. At all,” says Khalifa.

With frozen assets, the groups cannot carry out their work   work supported by international agencies and western governments.

Khalid, the director of Haki Africa, says that this is possibly a ploy by the Kenyan government to distract from more urgent matters at hand.

“We can’t say for sure, but there are two or three possibilities. One is that they just want to divert attention and to look like they’re working, to just prevent a rift so that people can now start questioning the list and the people therein, and not really concentrate on the insecurity lapses that have been in the country.”

The second, he says, is that someone “decided to include us there because of the work that we’ve been doing,” specifically on the extra-judicial killings that have been allegedly carried out by police and others in the Coast area.

And Khalifa, the director of Habari and Khalid’s fellow colleague, agrees.

“We were in the forefront, fighting against police extra-judicial killings. There were several reports that we had made on arrests and disappearances of individuals in the Coast. And this is one reason why they are targeting Mahuri and HAKI Africa. Because we are very, very active on those lines.”

Both groups said they will receive a response from the government within the next two weeks. For now, both are struggling to work in what could be called an oppressive environment.

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