Thursday, April 26, 2012

Victimised In The Name Of Security

In the below article, Guled Mohamed, narrates how he was victimized by a policeman without any reason. The article was first published by Kenya's The Star newspaper on Saturday, November 3, 2012 - where the writer is a news contributor.

Nearly a year ago on November 2, 2011, I wrote an opinion piece published by The Star newspaper under the title, “Hounding of Somalis hurts terror fight” in which I was trying to inform the public and more importantly warn government security machinery from arbitrarily arresting or victimising innocent Somalis in the pretext of fighting terror.

What goes around comes around, on Tuesday October 30, 2012, I came face to face with such victimisation when a drunken male police officer from Central Police Station in Nairobi decided to use his powers to unnecessarily victimise me and to cause me undue distress and delay for a flimsy crime that does not even exist in our books or anywhere else.

These are tricks or side shows which unscrupulous police officer like him use against innocent Kenyans to legally rob them off their hard earned money.

The officer said he was arresting me for changing a foreign currency at night! I never knew changing of foreign currency at night has been “made” a crime in Kenya these days.

He arrested me because I walked into a Casino in the city centre to change a bill of $100 at around or before mid night to settle a medical bill that I was short of cash.

Just for your information casinos and major hotels are the only places you can change a foreign currency at night in towns simply because banks and forex bureaus are closed. I prefer the casinos than the hotels for their slightly better rate.

Just like so many other days or nights, I went straight to the cashier and handed him the Greenback – Dollar bill-- as usual he authenticated the bill made his calculations using the available rate and gave me Sh8,350.

As soon as I pocketed the money and turned to leave, a gentleman wearing a grey suit loudly called for me. The man was sitting on my right on the slot machines with a glass of liquor signaling for me to go to him.

I ignored him assuming he is a drunkard who must have been overwhelmed by the liquor. But as soon as I turned to leave, he shouted and claimed to be an officer on duty. That is when I obliged and calmly walked towards him to hear what he had to say.

He held my hand and said, “Nimeona ile kitu umefanya” in Swahili, meaning I have seen what you have done. I told him whatever I did was not illegal and that I was rushing to pay a medical bill.

He refused to let me go as curious onlookers stood watching us, including a uniformed police officer whom the officer called his back up for arresting a dangerous criminal. When I tried to explain everything to the uniformed police officer, he simply dismissed me by saying that it was none of his business.

To cut the long story short, the officer was accusing me of being a suspected al-Shabaab member, of being in Kenya illegally and worse of planning to bomb and kill people in Kenya.

These and many other serious accusations he made against me are of course untrue but nonetheless are major crimes which any trigger-happy police officer would not hesitate to shoot you point blank without any committee of inquiry or inquest constituted to find out whether you were actually Al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Mungiki, Sungusungu, MRC or any other outlawed gang or terror organisation.

After showing him my national ID I tried to reason with the officer by telling him that I was a law abiding Kenyan citizen who was going about his business and that he should instead go and look out for those elements he was confusing me with.

But he never let go. He was insisting I should accompany him to Central Police Station to be thoroughly grilled and investigated because apparently my presence there was a major security threat.

He firmly held my hand while his other arm was strategically placed on his gun holster ready to shoot me should I attempt to flee. He made me walk out of the casino shouting and threatening me with an arrest and other hullabaloos they often use to threaten and confuse the public but I stood my ground and told him to stop harassing me and that if he thought I had committed a crime we should go to the police station.

He started telling me to speak properly and went about rattling at how they -- policemen-- are on a go slow at work because of unpaid dues.

In short, he wanted me to give him some money. I told him the money was a medical bill that I was heading to clear and that I could not part with any cent.

That is when he forced my cab driver, who was still trying to come to terms with what had transpired, to open the car door and head to Central Police Station.

The driver complied and opened the door after unsuccessfully trying to tell the officer he knows me and that I was not what he was claiming.

On our way to the station he kept reminding us of all the insecurity going on in the country from the Tana River massacre, the MRC-related violence and grenade attacks in North Eastern province.

He was warning me and threatening me that I could easily disappear from the face of the earth because he was armed – and he actually had the audacity to remove his pistol and pointing it at my face.

I told him there was no cause for alarm and that we had actually complied with his entire requests and orders and therefore he should treat us with dignity.

The cab driver nodded his head and reminded the officer the good work police officers were doing of ridding Nairobi and the entire country of criminals.

On reaching the station he ordered me and the driver out of the vehicle and called three police officers on duty -- two of whom were plain clothed offices-- to come and frisk the car telling them that he had received a tip off indicating I was an al-Shabaab member planning to carry out an attack because only rogue elements like al-Shabaab posses foreign currencies.

As soon the three police officers heard “foreign currency”, they swiftly moved to frisk the car from inside out including frisking us and asking me so many questions in Swahili at the same time and expecting me to answer them all. “Waria ulikuwa unaenda wapi? Unafanya kazi wapi? Unaishi wapi?

I remained calm although my heart was racing so fast fearing the officer who arrested us might have planted or placed something in the car to prove his case.

I silently prayed to God as I went about assuring the officers that I was not what their colleague was accusing me of and that they should thoroughly frisk us and the car to allay any fears or misinformation that might have warranted our arrest.

I was very much relieved when one of the officers who appeared to be the most senior told our captor that the car was clean and that all the information I had given them included where I work were true.

However, the officer who detained us was still not done with us. He told us to sit in the car and said that he was just acting on a tip off when he arrested us and that it is part of their work to safeguard the country and people against all evil.

After almost four hours of harassment and intimidation we were released and told to drive carefully. Thank God my cash was still intact and that I escaped physically unhurt from a very long and bad night with the men in blue.

As much as maintaining peace and securing in our country is a moral responsibility required of every Kenyan citizen, whether you are an armed policeman or an ordinary civilian, it is very important for our men in blue to make sure they win public support in helping them secure our country. Kenya is as much ours as they claim to passionately protect in the guise of such illegal arrests and public harassment.

I do not think the drunken bully who made my night so long without any reason whatsoever, had the sincerity of securing Kenya at heart as he claimed because he openly confessed at wanting some of the cash he had seen me pocket.

Now, that is a very dangerous precedent that must not be accepted and should never be allowed to be the order of the day because if such jungle rules are allowed to continue it will actually end up abetting crime since criminals will simply walk free after parting with “kitu kidogo” to continue hurting our country and killing innocent people.

Police officers are supposed to protect Kenyans and not victimise them in the name of security. Now that the National Police Service Commission has finally been constituted and which has started its mandate of streamlining the Kenya police force as required by the new constitution.

It is very important for such corrupt and inefficient officers to be wiped out from the force and replaced with professional men and women who respect the law and who serve Kenyans without fear, favour and free of corruption.

Guled Mohamed is a media consultant who writes on topical issues.