The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) did not have evidence that Muslims for Human Rights had links to terrorism when it froze its accounts, an official told a court on Monday, in its bid to have the case against it dismissed.
Matu Mugo, Assistant Director of the Bank Supervision Department at the CBK, said it was not supplied with a copy of the intelligence that allegedly linked Muhuri to terrorism.
Mr Mugo explained that the Central Bank merely acted on orders by the Financial Reporting Centre (FRC).
“All actions carried out by the CBK were in strict compliance with directives issued by State agencies. As a regulator, we carried out our mandate as required,” he told High Court Judge Dorah Chepkwony.
“We received communications from the FRC on April 7, 2015, directing the defendant to freeze the accounts of the plaintiff and other entities on suspicion that they had been associating with terror groups.”
The official testified in the case in which the rights organisation and its board chairman Khelef Khalifa sued the attorney-general, inspector-general of police, the CBK and the FRC. Muhuri is seeking Sh2.1 million in damages for being linked to terrorism.
The rights group argues that on April 7, 2015, the IG breached his constitutional mandate by publishing in the Kenya Gazette a list of institutions suspected to be involved in terror-related activities.
This, it says, exposed its officers to public odium and injury of character as they were portrayed as persons who support terrorism and terror organisation in the region.
When Muhuri’s lawyer James Orengo asked Mr Mugo why the CBK acted before obtaining the copy of the intelligence, he said the regulator had “absolutely no basis” to ask questions since the directive was from a body mandated in law to issue it.
He noted that the regulator has no notice, knowledge or information as to the substance of the allegations and/or accusations levelled against Muhuri.
“The CBK never acted on its own motion in issuing the freeze order and neither was it a participant complicit in the publishing of the list of terror suspects and in resolving to direct the issuing of the freeze order,” he said
As such, the official said, the suit against the CBK is defective and should be struck out as it seeks to pursue a mere implementing and reporting agency whose mandate does not extend to the fight against terrorism.
He added that his employer remains strange to the offices of the AG, IG and the FRC as it is only required to comply with directives of these arms of the State when it comes to the war on terror.
Human rights activist Maina Kiai told the court that the gazetting of Muhuri as an organisation that supports terror group Al-Shabaab negatively affected his interactions with people and their perceptions about him.
Mr Kiai, a Muhuri board member, added that the link to terrorism subjected him to many questions from international leaders, who doubted character and commitment to defending human rights.
“There was stigma and doubt about my credibility as an activist and reimbursements. It was embarrassing to be a human rights defender accused of funding terrorism. It is the biggest charge one can ever face … it lowered my credibility globally,” he said
Mr Kiai formerly served as the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
He went on to say that Muhuri received backlash because it was keen on ensuring a just war on terrorism, one without extrajudicial killings. He also said that following the accusations, he unsuccessfully sent money to his daughter in the US from his account at the NIC Bank in Kenya.
“Standard Chartered New York returned my cash to NIC and upon inquiry, I was told that it was an internal matter,” he said, adding he later learned that it was based on the claims of terror links.
Mr Kiai said he later managed to transfer the funds through Deutsch Bank, which does not have branches in Kenya.
“When we finally won the case and the accounts were unfrozen, the problem of transferring money to my daughter ended. This coincidence was not accidental,” he said
The final submission in the case will be made on February 8.