Over 200 Arrested in Nairobi Protests Against Proposed Tax Hikes

More than 200 protesters have been arrested in Nairobi as demonstrations continue against proposed tax increases outlined in a new finance bill set to be presented in parliament. Civil society groups vowed to persist with protests and a planned sit-in outside parliament, despite the detention of 210 demonstrators.

Nairobi Police Commander Adamson Bungei stated that no protest permits had been issued for the capital. While the Kenyan Constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly, organizers must notify the police in advance. Permission is generally granted unless security concerns arise.

On Tuesday, police deployed tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters, causing businesses to shutter temporarily due to fears of looting. Lawyer Wanjohi Gachie, participating in the protests, urged the police to refrain from arrests and violence, emphasizing that the demonstrations were in defense of all Kenyans’ rights.

In response to the protests, some tax proposals in the bill were modified following a meeting between ruling party lawmakers and President William Ruto. Key changes include the removal of a proposed 16% value-added tax on bread and amendments to a 2.5% motor vehicle annual tax on insurance. Additionally, a proposed tax on environmentally degrading goods will now apply only to imported items, promoting local manufacturing.

Amnesty Kenya reported that its staff observing the protests were also arrested, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all detained individuals. Kenya Law Society President Faith Odhiambo stated that police used tear gas on lawyers at a Nairobi police station as they attempted to visit their clients.

President Ruto defended the proposed tax measures, asserting the necessity for Kenya to achieve financial self-sufficiency. “The whole principle is that you must live within your means,” Ruto said, emphasizing the need to enhance national revenue.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga called on legislators to critically examine the bill and eliminate clauses that would disproportionately impact the poor. Odinga described the bill as an “investment killer” and a severe burden on the nation’s impoverished citizens. Opposition figure Kalonzo Musyoka warned of resuming weekly protests if the bill passes without significant revisions.

Parliament is set to begin debating the finance bill on Wednesday, with a vote scheduled for Monday. Last year’s finance law, which introduced a 1.5% housing tax on gross income for salaried individuals and doubled VAT on petroleum products, has already strained Kenyans grappling with a high cost of living.

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