, NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 28 – A Magistrate has disqualified herself from hearing and determining a case in which 22 activists are charged with protesting against the embezzlement of free primary education funds.
This followed an application from the activists’ lawyers who argued on Monday that they were unlikely to receive impartial and fair justice from magistrate Grace Nzioka, whom they accused of abdicating her responsibility.
“The human rights defenders were feeling that they were unfairly judged by that particular magistrate because when on (December) 24th she dismissed the charge sheet because of the objections that we had raised before her, she advised the police to release them at their discretion rather than herself as a court,” said one of the three lawyers Harun Ndubi.
Mr Ndubi said this action saw their clients – who include three elderly women – spend Christmas Day in jail because the police refused to release them or to grant them bail until Saturday.
“We were feeling uncomfortable to take plea and be tried by her but thankfully she has agreed to disqualify herself,” he said when the 22 appeared in court to plead to charges of taking part in an illegal assembly.
“Courts are supposed to defend people’s rights but this court did not do that on Thursday and the police took special advantage of that to take these people back to the police station and deny them bail,” continued the other lawyer Ishmael Nyaribo.
They said they would now await communication from the courts on which magistrate would take up the case. They said that they would still raise the same issues of defective charge sheet and violation of their clients’ constitutional rights before the other magistrate.
At the same time, the activists vowed not to relent in their calls to have those responsible for the scandal in which sacked.
Kenyans for Justice and Development National Convener Neto Agostinho said despite the arrest of their colleagues last week, they would continue to hold demonstrations until top officials at the Education Ministry are fired.
“We are still going to have countrywide protests until such a time when President (Mwai) Kibaki and Prime Minister (Raila) Odinga find it necessary to sack the Education Minister (Prof Sam Ongeri) and his Permanent Secretary (Prof Karega Mutahi),” Mr Agostinho said.
A two week notice has already been given to the police over planned countrywide mass protests.
“In two weeks beginning January, if the Prime Minister and the President don’t react, they can be sure that there will be non-violent action across the streets in the whole country,” he warned.
The organisation’s convener Okoiti Omtatah said they were also demanding an overhaul of the Education Ministry which they claimed was responsible for the general mismanagement of the education sector.