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Kiama’s arrest by overzealous cops, is wrong

I learnt with much concern about the arrest of Human Rights Advocate, Mutemi wa Kiama. He was arrested because he created a poster that purported to be a notice to “the world at large” that President Uhuru Kenyatta “is not authorised to act or transact on behalf of the Republic of Kenya and that future generations shall not be held liable for loans acquired by him.

That he was arrested in the first place for posting the notice on Twitter is ridiculous because at best, that poster has the same legal value as me sending the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, a letter of termination for her employment as queen. At best, the poster can only be read for its satirical value.

The police say that Mutemi is suspected of having contravened several provisions of Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, in particular section 22, which says:

(1) A person who intentionally publishes false, misleading or fictitious data or misinforms with intent that the data shall be considered or acted upon as authentic, with or without any financial gain, commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding five million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both.

(2) Pursuant to Article 24 of the Constitution, the freedom of expression under Article 33 of the Constitution shall be limited in respect of the intentional publication of false, misleading or fictitious data or misinformation that —
(a) is likely to (i) propagate war; or (ii) incite persons to violence;
(b) constitutes hate speech;
(c) advocates hatred that (i) constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or (ii) is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27(4) of the Constitution; or (d) negatively affects the rights or reputations of others.

To suggest that the poster may have contravened this section is laughable because, again, satire. Just because it wasn’t a cartoon doesn’t make the badly designed poster any less so. It certainly could not, to any eye, be considered or acted upon as authentic by any parties that Kenya is dealing with on matters loans. One does not see the programme officer dealing with the Kenya loan suddenly changing his mind on the facility to Kenya because this poster alerted him to President Kenyatta’s purported lack of authority.

I don’t think even the over zealous police believe that the poster could propagate war, incite violence or even constitute hate speech. It can only be read in the context of Kenyans’ well stated and loud dissatisfaction of the current debt crisis that Kenya is facing and their condemnation of IMF’s tone deafness in providing Kenya with yet another facility of Kshs. 257 Billion for “structural adjustment”.

The hallmark of a successful democracy is one where freedom of information – including the ability to use satire and make fun of the president – is guaranteed. The mark of a strong president is one who remains unfazed as people take the mickey out of them. It comes with the territory.

I personally don’t think the president saw the tweet by Kiama and was so outraged that he called on the inspector general of the National Police Service to quickly put Kiama in cuffs. I wouldn’t like to think that Cabinet Secretary Matiang’i could be bothered to do more than shake his head and tutt in annoyance at the tweet before moving on with his much more important work.

To arrest an activist on generally dubious grounds is the beginning of a slope that Kenya has been on with disastrous impacts, back in the 1980s. One hopes that the Public Prosecutor, Noordin Hajj will review the case and see it for the frivolity that it is and that he will move on to dealing with what Kenyans really want to see him focus on – taking the corrupt down.

Views on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent any of the organisations that I am associated with.

I am a writer first and foremost. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship, which I define by finding ways to innovate the world’s processes to make life better for people – whether in business or in the non-profit sector. I am professionally involved at the Open Institute, Thellesi Co and various agricultural ventures.

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