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Kenyan lobby wants prisoners to vote

NAIROBI, Kenya, May 7 – A civil rights group has threatened to move to court next week if the Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) does not consent to the registration of prisoners as voters.

Kituo Cha Sheria Executive Director Priscilla Nyokabi told Capital News that her organisation would present a fresh petition to the IIEC on Friday, failure to which they would take legal action on behalf of thousands of prisoners across the country.

“We are waiting for the letter from IIEC telling us whether or not they have agreed (especially now that there is an extension of time) to allow prison inmates to register as voters; whether they can still rush before the close of the deadline. But if we get that letter and it does not grant the right we intend to go to court and have the special court on Constitutional matters interpret that issue,” she said.

The IIEC has not enrolled prisoners in the on-going exercise, citing the current Constitution which bars inmates from participating in an election.

But Ms Nyokabi argued that there were no limitations in law that bar the IIEC from registering prisoners, saying the current process was mainly for the Constitution referendum.

“If Parliament intended that inmates are not registered as voters nothing would have been easier than for them to say that (in legislation),” she said.

Ms Nyokabi also questioned the wording in some sections of the current Constitution that barred prisoners from participating in elections saying it created room for liberal interpretations.

She pointed out that South Africa, Canada, the United Kingdom and other commonwealth countries allow prisoners to take part in the polls.

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“In other countries like Germany they would say if you have committed treason or offences related to an election then you cannot partake in elections. But if you committed completely unrelated offences there is no reason to lose citizenship. And at the very least that clause should apply to those who have been convicted not remandees,” she added.

The legal rights campaigner also blamed societal intolerance as the reason why prisoners were denied their democratic rights.

“Our society has become so inconsiderate that even when you are discussing an issue like this people don’t feel the sympathy. If I have access to register and someone doesn’t have, that’s not my business. We have learnt to leave the downtrodden to themselves,” she observed.

She also said the IIEC already had a flexible framework that allowed people to register from anywhere which in turn meant Kenya\’s prisoners who number about 53,000 could participate from their holding facilities.

Kituo Cha Sheria is a local NGO that empowers the poor and marginalised to effectively access justice and realise their human rights through advocacy, networking, lobbying, legal aid, legal education, representation and research.

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