November 23rd 2017

Top Stories / National

Babu Owino released; rights advocates say prosecutors stretched law to detain him longer

According to Ndungu Wainaina, the High Court had clearly banned the practice of the police detaining crime suspects awaiting trial under pretext of further investigations. The MP was held a day longer after appearing in court yesterday so the police could complete investigations.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comWednesday, 27 Sep 2017 15:32 EAT

Babu Owino in court yesterday.

Embakasi East MP Babu Owino was released this afternoon from police custody after paying cash bail of Sh500,000. The former university student leader was arrested on Monday and spent two nights in the police cells in what rights advocates now say contravened legal norms.

According to Ndungu Wainaina, the High Court had clearly banned the practice of the police detaining crime suspects awaiting trial under pretext of further investigations. The MP was held a day longer after appearing in court yesterday so the police could complete investigations.

"The High Court Judge Luka Kimaru ruled it illegal for police to detain suspects for more than 24 hours under the excuse that they are conducting investigations. The court on June 19, 2007 declared the trend by police to seek court orders to detain suspects for further investigations without a formal charge in court illegal and against the Constitution," Wainaina said.

Before the path-breaking ruling, it had become common for police to go to court within 24 hours to ask for permission to detain suspects for further investigations. Justice Luka Kimaru ruled that all accused persons had a right to have their cases determined expeditiously.

He noted that if the current trend was allowed to thrive, the country risked plunging back into the dark days of detention without trial. The ruling means investigators have only 24 hours to complete investigations. It also means that police can only arrest suspects when they are sure that they have enough evidence against them. “The police have no authority in law to arrest and detain any person without sufficient grounds,” the High Court ruled.

"Almost every case where the State found itself with no evidence to push a charge, it asked the court to allow it to detain suspects for at least two weeks under the excuse of investigating them. It is often argued that the accused person is a flight risk or is likely to interfere with the ongoing investigations," the activist said.

But the judge found that every person has a right to live freely unless there are convincing reasons for the law to take away that freedom. “It is unlawful for the police to seek to have a person who has been arrested to continue to remain in custody without a formal charge being laid in court.

"If this trend continues, it will erode all the gains made in the advancement of human rights and fundamental freedoms as provided for in the Bill of Rights since the Constitution was promulgated in August 2010,” said the High Court.

The MP is charged with the crime of subversion after he uttered words that prosecutors said insulted the institution of the presidency.

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