NAIROBI, July 5 – Kenyan activist Bill Eugene Omollo was walking home after dark in his Nairobi neighborhood on June 20 when he noticed two men eyeing him near a parked white pick-up truck without license plates. The 28-year-old, who had been released by police just hours earlier following his arrest at a protest, shouted for help.

“But people were also running. So they took me,” he recounted.

Human rights groups report that dozens of Kenyans have experienced similar abductions over the past two weeks, attributing these extrajudicial arrests to Kenya’s intelligence services. Initially organized online and leaderless, the protests began as a call to repeal tax hikes but have evolved into a significant movement transcending Kenya’s traditional ethnic divisions. This movement now poses the most substantial challenge to President William Ruto’s two-year-old administration.

Although Ruto eventually rescinded the tax increases in a victory for the protestors, the government’s heavy-handed response—resulting in hundreds of arrests and at least 39 deaths—has sparked concerns about human rights regression.

“The president and I promised the people of Kenya that abductions and extrajudicial killings would never happen again,” Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said in a televised address. “Sadly, this is back.”

Despite the allegations, a police spokesperson and Noordin Haji, director of Kenya’s intelligence services, did not respond to requests for comment. In a recent interview, Ruto denied police involvement in the disappearances but broadly defended the actions of security forces.

However, Irungu Houghton, executive director of Amnesty International Kenya, stated that there were clear cases of abuse. “People considered to be protesters, organizers, or simply dissenting voices are being plucked from their homes or even while going to church with their families and locked up,” he said.

Blindfolded and Interrogated

Amnesty International, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and the Law Society of Kenya report that over 30 people have been abducted, though most have been released. Faith Odhiambo, president of the Law Society of Kenya, said interrogations of abduction victims have focused on the protest movement’s financing, organization, and leadership.

“It’s a very clear indication that the government is behind this,” she said.

Omollo recounted how his captors blindfolded him and drove him to an unknown location, where he was ordered to strip to his underwear and sit on a concrete floor flooded with freezing water. The interrogation and threats to his family then began.

“They asked me ‘Who sent you? Who is funding you? I told them no one is funding us,” Omollo said, adding that he did not know who abducted him and has not reported the incident to the police. “I thought I would be a dead man.”

The Missing

Houghton confirmed instances of torture during illegal detentions, while Odhiambo noted that the abductions seem to be achieving their intended effect of intimidation. “They don’t want to be seen on social media or any forums,” she said. “Fear has been instilled.”

After 24 hours, Omollo’s captors left him near a police station. He is among the fortunate ones. Rights groups report that some abduction victims remain unaccounted for. Nairobi resident Mutia Paul is still searching for his 17-year-old brother, Tony, who was last seen heading to a protest on June 25. Paul has searched police stations, hospitals, and morgues, believing Tony is being detained.

“My heart is full of sorrow. I have done all I can,” he said.

Despite activists’ vows to continue pressuring Ruto and lawmakers, Omollo has had enough of protesting. Fearing he was being followed and could be abducted again, he left Nairobi.

“I miss my home, I miss my brothers, I miss my sisters, and I miss my community,” he said. “I feel like a refugee in my own country.”

[Source: Eyewitness accounts and statements from Amnesty International Kenya, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, and the Law Society of Kenya]

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