Arrests mar Jamhuri Day celebrations

December 12, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, December 12 – The Media Council of Kenya on Friday condemned the arrests of journalists and civil rights activists during the country’s Jamhuri Day celebrations.

The journalists and activists were arrested outside the Nyayo National stadium, where the celebrations took place, for wearing t-shirts condemning MP’s failure to pay taxes. 

In a statement, the Media Council said the arrests which come only a day after the passing of the draconian media bill, confirmed its worst fears that there were people in the government determined to intimidate the media into silence.

The council reiterated its commitment to defend the independence and freedom of media and rights of Kenyans to know the truth.

Mars Group Chief Executive Officer, Mwalimu Mati said they were arrested for wearing t-shirts that read ‘No taxes for MP’s, No taxes for us’ and taken to Langata Police Station.

“They are saying that wearing the t-shirt is the problem which we find very weird,” he told Capital News in a phone interview.

Among the journalists arrested included popular comedian Nyambane as he sought to present a petition to the president at the Nyayo National stadium during the country’s 45th Jamhuri day celebrations.

The Kenyan legislators have refused to pay taxes on their allowances despite a public outcry for them to do so.

A clause on the Finance Bill allowing Mps to be taxed was deleted after the legislators rejected to pass the Bill in parliament. The Bill is now awaiting presidential assent.

Mati blamed the arrest on draconian laws and said the controversial media bill, which is awaiting final approval by the President would make it worse.

“These laws infringe on the freedom of expression and I think at the end of the day the issue is whether we are clear on whether or not we are allowed freedom of expression,” he said.

Laws makers collectively passed The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill on Wednesday ignoring pleas by media partners for them to delete Section 88 of the Bill, which gives the government powers to confiscate broadcasting equipment during national emergencies.

The proposed law seeks to curtail the freedom of information and goes against the rule of self regulation.

At some point Mwalimu Mati could be heard pleading with the law enforcers not to manhandle his wife.

“No no… don’t manhandle her she is my wife please….please we are coming with you but don’t manhandle her.”

Former legislator Paul Muite who was at the Langata police station to defend those arrested noted that the punishments outlined in the Bill are harsh to individual journalists confirming that they were aimed at intimidating and blackmailing the journalists.

“There is control of the content can be put into very negative uses so the President must be aware that all the eyes of the Kenyan people are on him and they are expecting him to do the right thing- to decline to assent to that Bill,” Muite who is also a lawyer said.

He added: “Even the very design is faulty. The broadcasting provisions need to be separated and be made the subject matter of a separate statute not be ranked together with the ICT.”

He noted that the beneficiary of the media freedom would be the Kenyan Public and if the Bill became law, they would be the biggest losers.

Muite alleged that the police were carrying out orders.

“I sympathise with the Officer Commanding Station (OCS) and his deputy, I sympathise with their position, they have confirmed that they were acting on orders to arrest. So it is clearly not for them to decide whether they are to release them or hold them until Monday they are waiting for decisions from their superiors. This is the politicians who have given these orders,” he said.

He said this would take the country back to the dark days when news items were only about what government was doing.

“This is when the first item on the news would be the president, then the vice president, the minister, the Provincial Commissioner and then the news is finished," he observed dryly.


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