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Activists throw court into chaos

Wednesday July 20 2011

By PAUL OGEMBA [email protected]

An activist on Wednesday shocked a Nairobi court when he insulted a magistrate, prompting a gasp of disbelief from everybody in the courtroom.

Mr Okiya Okoiti Omtata told principal magistrate Grace Macharia “not to be used like a condom” to provoke them by sitting to hear a case against a group of activists.

This led to a bitter reaction from the magistrate who warned Mr Omtata risked jailing for contempt of court.

Mr Omtata and his group disrupted business at the Milimani Law Court, where they had been brought to answer public disturbance charges.

Proceedings in other courtrooms ground to a halt when the 31 activists, arrested on Tuesday in Nairobi for breach of the peace were led from the basement cells to a magistrate’s court, where they were joined by civil society groups who had camped at the premises since morning.

The group broke into song, to the dismay of court officials and police officers who could only watch helplessly.

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Thereafter, the activists passed a long chain around themselves and turned the court into a public baraza (meeting).

Not criminals

After a brief address by their leader, Mr Omtata, the activists said they would only answer charges in the High Court as they were not criminals.

“We will not listen to a magistrate. We have a similar case in a magistrate’s court in Kibera, but since 2009, it has only been coming up for mention,” he said.

Shouts of “comrades power” greeted each statement before the group again broke into song, accusing the government of corruption and insensitivity to the people’s plight.

The activists said their rights were being violated and questioned why Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission director Patrick Lumumba, who led a protest match to the Lands ministry, was not arrested.

When principal magistrate Grace Macharia entered the courtroom, the activist sang the national anthem. When they finished, it took their lawyer’s cajoling for them to sit.

More drama awaited Ms Macharia as shortly after, the court degenerated into a shouting match between her and Mr Omtata, who demanded that she decline to listen to the charges against them and forward the case to the Chief Justice or the High Court for constitutional interpretation.

“We will not allow ourselves to be reduced to criminals by a defective charge sheet. We are law-abiding citizens who have been kidnapped and detained by police and kept under inhumane conditions without food,” Mr Omtata said.

Prosecutor Onesmus Towet requested that the activists be remanded in custody for another five days as they had refused to identify themselves or have their fingerprints taken. His request was granted.