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Opinion & Analysis

Innocence does count when under arrest

Kenya prison warders arrest a robbery suspect in Nairobi on December 23, 2016. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Kenya prison warders arrest a robbery suspect in Nairobi on December 23, 2016. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

I have been arrested three times in my life: none of them glorious stories, but the most embarrassing surely at age 18, late at night, in a sleepy British seaside town.

On my way home from a party, with two friends, both male, they picked a litter bin off a lamp post and began kicking it down the street. It made a terrible racket, and we were all a bit drunk.

Across the road, a police patrol team had stopped to buy late night KFC, and heard the colossal noise of the metal bin being kicked down the street. They gave chase. We all ran and hid. And there it would have ended, except when the police found us, with the arrogance of youth, we talked back: so they arrested us.

It was a salutary youthful scrape and I never expected to be arrested again, until I was, in Nairobi, and then, it was a very different business.

It was after the 2010 Constitution came into force, so they were obliged to inform me I had a right to silence. They didn’t. But I did have someone with me. The first time, my driver came in with me. The second time my lawyer did.

My problem was a dispute with a powerful person, who wanted me to waive my rights to payment on termination. A seemingly small matter really.

But it turned out, one of the police officers told me later when we met for coffee, that it was quite common for employers to get ‘help’ from the police in seeing off ‘difficult’ employees. He told me about a couple of companies where it happened a lot.

In my own arrest for five hours of questioning, the deputy OCPD was there, and the case officer, but so was the company secretary of the company that had employed me.

They were also checking in by phone with someone saved on the case officer’s large touch phone as ‘‘The Captain.’’

As it is, they didn’t treat me so badly. No one ever laid a finger on me. They had me fill statements. They pored over my (legitimate and valid) work permit.

They threatened to imprison me; they said they would set a bail I couldn’t afford so I stayed in detention; they said that would get me deported; they said I wouldn’t see my children again; And all of which would go away if I just signed the man’s agreements and waived notice.

I wasn’t brave. Most of what I remember about that first arrest was just crying. I wept close to throughout. But it really helped to have a witness there. I also remember the toilet.

They wouldn’t let me go to the toilet for some time. But when they did, it was disgusting. Not just a hole in the ground, but no door, no privacy, and covered in human dirt.

It was an incident that really frightened me at the time, and was genuinely traumatic. But as things turned out, they let me go after five hours to ‘think about it’ and then had a second go, days later.

Eventually, I did agree to sign, and was released. And then my former boss anyway changed his terms, and I never did sign, but went silent instead.

In fact, the police cannot keep you without charges for more than 24 hours: they must put you in court. You are also entitled to go to a decent toilet if you need to.

For my own experience, one of the police officers was genuinely kind about the whole thing. They weren’t monsters. But they worked hard to frighten me enough to get that signature.

I guess, often, when arrests are made, crimes have been committed. But keep your cool. Innocence does count. And whatever the circumstances, have someone there with you: don’t go it alone. Not ever.

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