Monday August 7, 2017
By Alanna Rizza
Andreas Katsouris was in Nairobi Kenya working on the presidential opposition campaign when a dinner outing turned into a tense detainment and deportation.
Andreas Katsouris and his wife Jennifer Bell. (Jennifer Mary Bell)
A dinner outing turned into a scene from an action movie on Friday night when Toronto man Andreas Katsouris was swarmed in a Nairobi street by men who detained him, took his cell phones and demanded he take them to a colleague.
“I was on my way to dinner on Friday night when five or six tough looking guys wearing street clothes surrounded me, and then pretty soon there were a dozen of them,” Katsouris said.
“I saw one of their cell phones and there was a photo of me on it. They said they had been looking for me.”
The men, who identified themselves as police, asked Katsouris to bring them to his American co-worker, John Aristotle Phillips.
He was given only a few minutes to call his wife before his two phones and laptop were taken from him, he told the Star over the phone, from Delft, Netherlands where he has since been reunited with his wife and daughter.
When the officers arrived at Katsouris’ apartment, they asked him and Phillips to pack their bags. He said when they both protested the officers became aggressive and began pushing and shoving them.
Phillips was then handcuffed.
“One guy also grabbed the glasses off my face. I’m pretty much blind without my glasses, and then I was like ‘OK we don’t have to do things this way,’ and then he put them back on.”
The officers also denied Katsouris and Phillips the chance to contact lawyers or access to consular assistance, he said. Representatives for the Kenyan government did not immediately respond to Canadian Press requests for comment.
Katsouris, who had been working on the opposition campaign for Kenya’s presidential election when he was apprehended, packed his belongings and got into the officers’ vehicle. He said Phillips later told him he was put into the back of another car with a man holding a “large machine gun.” Phillips’s handcuffs were later removed.
The officers would not answer Katsouris’ questions about where they were going or why they were being held.
“I’m sitting in the car with four or five guys, and two of them are sitting on either side of me and it is pitch black outside. In terms of kidnapping and if I was going to be killed, it definitely crossed my mind,” he said.
After about a half an hour of driving, Katsouris said the tension eased. Five hours later he was at the airport, where he and Phillips were brought into a room and told they were being deported because of a violation of their visas.
Katsouris said officers produced no documentation to justify his detention.
He was put on a connecting flight to Toronto, which first stopped at Frankfurt Airport, where he then took a train to Delft.
“It was 23 hours of boredom and about an hour of fear,” he said.
Katsouris said he and Phillips both had tourist visas, which are not sufficient for their employment in Kenya, but he believes the deportation was political. Katsouris is senior vice-president of global services at Aristotle Inc., a political consulting firm that provides various services to campaigns, including strategy and data analysis. Phillips is the company’s CEO.
Katsouris said he saw multiple reports from Kenyan media that a polling station from his opposition campaign was vandalized while he was detained.
“I saw a smashed up office. And there were multiple eye-witnesses that said computers were broken and some of them stolen.”
James Orengo, a senior member of the opposition National Super Alliance, told The Associated Press that the detention of Katsouris and Phillips happened around the same time that armed and masked police raided an opposition vote-counting centre, intimidating workers and seizing equipment.
Kenyan police denied allegations that officers broke into political party offices on Friday, saying no report of a burglary has been made to any police station.
The lead-up to Tuesday’s election has been contentious.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president, is up against longtime opposition leader Odinga, the son of the country’s first vice-president.
Katsouris and Phillips have been in Nairobi since June assisting opposition candidate Odinga. They also became involved in the election because they believed it had the potential for irregularities.
Odinga has run unsuccessfully in three previous elections.
Katsouris said before he was deported his two phones, one Canadian and the other he got in Kenya, along with his company laptop, were taken by the officers. He said he saw them reading his messages and emails that were between other campaign employees.
The phones were given back to him, but the Kenyan phone was returned without a SIM card.
Kenyan officials also kept his company laptop, which contains emails and documents from the opposition campaign.
“It’s completely inappropriate for a supposed democratic election,” said Katsouris.
For now he will be spending time with his wife, Jennifer Mary Bell, and his 14-year-old daughter, who wasn’t aware of the situation until her father surprised her in Delft.
“I made the decision not to tell her even though she’s old enough to understand. But I didn’t want to tell her anything that I didn’t know for sure,” Bell said.
Bell said when she got the call from her husband she remained calm and tried to think rationally. “This kind of thing is always a possibility with his kind of work.”
She then contacted her MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and global affairs officials who assisted with the deportation process.
The family will be returning to their home in Toronto on Saturday.
With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press