Kenyan Muslim cleric to sue state for loss of eye sight 27 years later
One evening in 1991, as Sheikh Mohamed Khalifa addressed his supporters at Mwembe Tayari in Mombasa town, a contingent of officers from the dreaded General Service Unit descended on them.
It was at the height of the Islamic Party of Kenya (IPK) agitation for change and recognition of the Muslim community which made the Moi government feel insecure.
His arrest ended in chaos forcing the Central police station, where he had been taken, to be shut as riot police and youths engaged in running battles.
And, 27 years later, Mr Khalifa, the organising secretary of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK), narrates the chilling experience and painful memories that changed his life for worse.
At his Mwembe Tayari offices, he sat pensively as he narrated the events that led to loss of his eyesight. Some of his supporters, he remembers, were fatally shot. Others were paralysed and are now left to suffer in silence because of fear of being victimised.
“As Muslims, we had been marginalised for long by the Moi administration. That is when we decided to form IPK to fight for the rights of Muslims. It was before the 1992 General Election,” he said.
Mr Khalifa said the push was caused by the government’s decision to allow multi-party democracy.
“When we presented the party for registration, it was rejected. And Muslims were not happy. The agitation started mostly in Mombasa, which was the party’s headquarters. We had national and district leaders,” he said.
BEGINNING OF CHAOS
Among the leaders then was Mr Omar Mwinyi who is now the Changamwe MP, Abdulrahman Wandati, Khalid Balala and their lawyer was Taib Ali Taib. Mr Mwinyi was the IPK chairman.
“We decided to use a site at Mwembe Tayari to preach and sensitise our people on their rights. Our teachings were not about the Muslim faith only but we used the chance to educate the people on their rights,” Mr Khalifa said.
One evening as he was preaching, a contingent of police officers descended on them and Mr Khalifa and eight supporters were arrested.
“Our arrest did not please our supporters and that was the beginning of chaos. Angry supporters pelted stones at the police station and it was the first time that the Central police station was closed,” he said.
“It was chaotic and police had to fire in the air to disperse our supporters,” said Mr Khalifa.
He said that at night, they were taken to various police stations, including Bamburi.
“The following day, we were taken to court and again taken to remand at Shimo La Tewa Prison in Shanzu. We were released after being in remand for four days,” he said.
He said that on the day he was arrested, police were targeting Sheikh Khalid Balala, a fiery preacher who was on police radar, but he did not show up when Mr Khalifa was arrested.
“They arrested Mr Balala at his house in Kisauni and took him to a Voi court, forcing us to attend his court cases in Voi. At one point when we were heading to Voi for the hearing of Mr Balala’s case, GSU officers lobbed teargas at us at Mackinnon where several people were injured,” he said.
He said the cases were later terminated.
Mr Khalifa said he was arrested for five consecutive years because he was a critic of Mr Moi’s government. “After the 1991 arrest, I was arrested again in 1992, 1993,1994 and 1995. Every time Moi was in Coast, I was put in police cells and would only be released after he left the region,” he said.
He said police brutally beat up IPK supporters. Some were killed and others paralysed following the injuries inflicted by the police.
“People were shot even as they sought refuge at Kwa Shibu Mosque,” he said.
“While in police detention, I was taken to different police stations and in the process I suffered from glaucoma (an eye disease). The disease needed regular medical check-ups but I could not because i was in detention,” he said.
With painful memories, though, Mr Khalifa said that their efforts enabled the recognition of the Muslim community in the country.
However, he wants to start a case against the government for the atrocities they faced in the government crackdown on IPK.
“If the late Kenneth Matiba was compensated for the atrocities under the Moi regime. I also lost my sight because of being detained by the Moi government. They did not charge me in court and that was an injustice,” he said.