20 May 2019

Kenya: Bizarre Habit Creeps Into Courts as Suspects Hide Faces in Hoodies

Photo: Dennis Onsongo/Daily Nation
Some of the Kenya Revenue Authority workers who were arrested over tax evasion at the Milimani Law Courts on May 15, 2019.

Across the world, hooded jackets and sweatshirts have different meanings that are often politically charged.

Initially designed to keep sportsmen and women warm before and after training, hoodies have found more popularity as fashionable and political articles of clothing.

NOSY MEDIA

In the US, for instance, hoodies were used to protest the killing of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin, shot by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch coordinator in Sanford, Florida.

In the 2017 Oscars, several celebrities shot videos of themselves in hoodies as a five-year anniversary commemoration.

In Britain, hoodies are a controversial topic and, over the years, several devolved units of the government have placed bans on hoodies.

The bans can be traced back to the late 1990s when stores started banning wearing of hoodies within their premises, since shoplifters and robbers used them to hide their identity. Following a wave of riots in 2011, some parts of the UK started banning wearing of hoodies.

Last week, the arraignment of 38 Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) employees on suspicion of aiding tax evasion revealed one of the most pronounced use of the hoodie by Kenyans -- aside from its obvious role of keeping the cold at bay.

Nearly all 38 suspects showed up in hooded sweaters and jackets, with some going as far as putting on masks and sunglasses to avoid having the "nosy" media splash their faces on TV and newspapers.

There is nothing illegal about how the KRA staff presented themselves in court, since there are no laws dictating how suspects in criminal cases should present themselves. In fact, a trader somewhere made a killing selling the many hoodies in one day.

But their dressing did cause more than a minor stir on various social media platforms and recreation facilities around town.

IDENTITY THEFT

Articles 28 (on the right to have one's dignity respected and protected), 31 (right to privacy) and 32 (freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion) all stop the formulation of any rules to dictate how an individual should present themselves in court, whether wearing hoodies or any other article of clothing.

While covering one's face to such a degree can open the door for mischief, lawyer Cliff Oduk told the Nation that there are laws that deal with such offences.

Should someone opt to pay another to take their place in court, for example, both individuals involved would face the law.

"There is no way a court can interfere with one's dressing. On certain occasions, the court can order one to uncover themselves but that can only be done in camera (in the presence of the judge, clerk and lawyers alone). Where there is mischief at play, such as suspects paying people to show up in court in their place, there are laws that deal with that offence. Charges of perjury, giving false information and identity theft can be brought against those involved," Mr Oduk said in an interview.

A day after the suspects from KRA were arraigned in court, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations brought to court 15 people suspected of dealing in fake gold. Unsurprisingly, the suspects were also clad in hoodies, some adding sunglasses as well.

Hiding of faces in court is not new, but perhaps it was the number of suspects in the two cases last week that attracted attention.

In neighbouring Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni last year banned motorcyclists from wearing hoodies or covering their heads with anything short of a helmet.

Among crimes committed by hooded motorcyclists and which sparked the ban was the killing of an MP -- Ibrahim Abiriga -- and his brother Saidi Butele.

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