By ERIC WAINAINA
Weeks ago as Mr Kamau Mburu and other people were walking home shortly past 11 pm, they were rounded up in Kirigiti and taken to Kiambu Police Station.
At the station, the farmhand and fellow “suspects” found more people, mostly young people who had been picked up from other shopping centres in Kiambu Sub-County.
Mr Mburu says before being booked that Saturday, the officers who arrested them began telling them to pay Sh1,000 in order to secure their release and avoid the embarrassment of being detained and paraded in court.
While some paid the non-statutory fee, Mr Mburu and few others did not and so they were booked for being drunk and disorderly, an offence he says he never committed.
They were then taken to the cells awaiting their day in court on Monday.
Come Monday morning and they were arraigned for drunken and disorderly conduct.
The group pleaded guilty to the offence and was ordered to do community work the whole day.
Mr Mburu says his efforts to plead with the officers before they booked him fell on deaf ears.
“Instead, the officers advised me to plead guilty because the charges do not attract harsh punishment as we would be ordered to do community work for a day or pay a Sh500 fine,” he said.
“They added that if we denied the charges, we would be remanded as we would likely not raise the bail.”
Mr Mburu’s case is just one of the thousands happening across the country.
Police officers round up innocent people mostly on weekends and demand bribes. Those unable to pay are booked for being drunk and disorderly.
It is probably the easiest way for the officers to justify the arrest of innocent Kenyans.
Kiambu County Bar Owners Association chairman Richard Kagiri says police have a habit of making night arrests and then negotiation with “culprits” to pay between Sh1,000 and Sh2,000.
The arrests, he says, are used by the police officers to make money through bribes, adding that it is usually collusion between the junior officers and their bosses.
“More than 200 people might be arrested in one night but less than 50 are taken to court. The charges are not supported by facts since there are no complainants or witnesses,” he said.
“No tests are done to determine if one was drunk. It is a way of making quick bucks from the innocent.”
The bar association chairman adds that suspects are normally told that the wheels of justice are notoriously slow and advised to plead guilty.
Mr Mbiyu Kamau, a criminal lawyer, describes the charges as the worst form of abuse of the legal process.
He says it is also discriminative as those who can afford bribes are never charged unless they refuse to toe the police officers’ line.
“It is a poor man’s offence and very primitive. You will never find rich people being charged with being drunk and disorderly. You have to part with money or spend the weekend in custody. Woe unto you, if you don’t have money for you, will be made to do cleaning jobs or spend six months in jail,” the lawyer said.
He added that being drunk is not an offence.
“Being disorderly is an offence. You risk being jailed or fined if you trample on other people’s rights and freedom by making noise, falling on them or doing nasty things in public like urinating,” he said.
Police, he added, arrest people who have taken alcohol and accuse them of being disorderly just because a majority of Kenyans do not understand their rights.
“Ask many police officers what constitutes disorderly conduct. Many cannot tell,” he said.
“People are arrested at bus terminus or while going about their businesses. If the suspects were to go to full trial, there would be no witnesses because the prosecution has to call the people who were offended by the suspects. Police even arrest teetotallers.”