New bill holds protest organizers responsible for property damage, cleanup

Organizers of demonstrations and protests will be liable for property damage if a proposed law is passed.

The Assembly and Demonstrations Bill 2024 further proposes that the organizers of any protest or demonstration will have to pay the clean-up costs.

Lawyers believe Mbeere North MP Geoffrey Ruku’s bill is not only punitive but unfairly deprives Kenyans of the right to voice their grievances as envisaged by the framers of the Constitution.

“Article 24 of our Constitution allows reasonable and justifiable limitations. The proposed bill does not consider this provision. Therefore, it must be reviewed again before debating it in Parliament,” said lawyer Charles Kanjama.

The bill states that any person intending to hold a meeting must notify the regulatory officer in advance and also give the official the power to impose conditions on the holding of a meeting or demonstration, and such conditions may relate to the public safety and the maintenance of public order. or protect the rights and freedoms of people.

Spontaneous demonstrations

This demand, according to Kanjama, ignores the Constitution, which recognizes that demonstrations can be planned or spontaneous.

“When the bill requires protest organizers to write to the police at least three days in advance, it automatically blocks spontaneous demonstrations. People may simply wake up and decide they are fed up with an issue of public interest. Asking them to write at least 72 hours in advance takes away that ability,” Kanjama said.

It also takes issue with the requirement that the organizer of a meeting or demonstration or his authorized agent be present throughout the meeting and assist police in maintaining peace and order.

“I have no problem with the organizer or their authorized agents being present at all times. However, it makes no sense to give civilians the duty of helping the police maintain peace and order. The duty to maintain peace and order lies with the police,” Kanjama said.

The lawyer says that whenever there are demonstrations or protests, they are usually infiltrated by third parties, pointing out that asking the organizers to maintain peace and order will deter Kenyans with genuine grievances from organizing such demonstrations and assemblies.

The bill also directly blames protest organizers for loss or damage to property.

“When, during the holding of a meeting or demonstration, damage to property occurs as a result of the meeting or demonstration, every organization and every person participating in such meeting shall, without prejudice to the provisions of subsection (2), jointly responsible. for such damage,” he says.

Kanjama says this can be misused by those who oppose these types of demonstrations to blame the organizers.

Discipline

When Ruku proposed the bill last year during the Azimio protests, he said the punitive proposals were aimed at instilling discipline during the protests.

“Property cannot be destroyed in the name of demonstrations. We cannot lose lives in the name of protests. For peaceful demonstrations to be achieved, there must be regulations,” he stated.

However, lawyers and governance analysts say the parliamentarian overlooked the fact that the government and other stakeholders can take advantage of the proposed law to show organizers in a bad light.

During protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the then ruling coalition unleashed a group known as the Nairobi Business Community ostensibly to protect its businesses and properties.