Outcry as Kenya police target and arrest bloggers “critical” of government

Journalist Yassin Juma

NAIROBI: Concerns have been raised over growing arrest and detention of bloggers perceived to be “critical” of the government.

The latest to be arrested was blogger and journalist Yassin Juma. He spent his nights in police custody after his arrest on Saturday night from his Donholm home.

He was booked at the Muthaiga police cells for misusing a licensed telecommunication gadget under section 29 of the Information and Communication Act.

Leading blogger Robert Alai is expected to present himself before a team of Directorate of Criminal Investigations along Kiambu Road.

Alai said he was summoned for grilling after he tweeted about the president.

“They summoned me on Friday over a tweet I had posted on my timeline but I told them I will be there on Monday. I don’t know what they want but it seems you can’t criticise the government,” said Alai.

Another blogger Patrick Msafari popularly known as @moderncorps was arrested and detained in custody overnight before being released on Friday.

Msafari said he was ordered to return to DCI headquarters Monday for further grilling.

“They were asking me why I criticise the government and if I knew where other wanted bloggers are. We are under threat,” said Msafari.

He added the officers also confiscated his mobile phones and defaced his accounts, which he termed as illegal and impunity.

Cyprian Nyakundi spent two days in police custody before being freed on intervention of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.

He said he was being questioned on the whereabouts of other wanted bloggers and why he was critical of government at large.

“I told them it is my right to support a certain political stand. I realised they don’t want us to talk ill of some people even when they are wrong. They want us to be patriotic. But I wonder how and why in this state,” he said.

Seth Okoth alias Dikembe Disembe is in hiding after he learnt he was wanted. He said he had been informed the team of detectives is after him over his tweets.

“They have been asking those so far arrested on where I am. I don’t know what this government wants,” he said.

Eddy Reuben Illah was arrested on January 19, 2016 and charged with publishing prohibited material for sharing images of what he alleged were Kenyan soldiers killed in an Al Shabaab attack, via a WhatsApp group.

Illah has denied the charge and has been remanded in custody pending the hearing of his case on February 9, 2016.

Earlier on, Elijah Kinyanjui, a Nakuru based journalist, was arrested by Nakuru

DCI for misuse of a licensed telecommunication gadget.

A Kenya Broadcasting Corporation journalist, Judith Akolo, was summoned by police and questioned for hours for retweeting a tweet questioning why an advert for police promotions was released on the eve of the deadline.

Article 19 East Africa has raised concern over the trend saying it is deeply alarmed by recent escalation of arrests and prosecutions of online communicators, including bloggers, in Kenya.

Director Henry Maina said Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act regarding ‘improper use of a licensed telecommunication gadget’ is being increasingly used by state officials to target those communicating online.

“Article 33 of the Kenyan Constitution expressly states that every person has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, or impart information or ideas. The recent wave of arrests of those communicating online do not reach the high threshold regarding limitations that can be placed on expression under Article 33 (2), and thus the actions by the police are unconstitutional,” he said.

Maina urged the government to abide by the spirit of the constitution regarding freedom of expression and to stop using this provision to clamp down on legitimate expression and democratic debate.

Officials at DCI headquarters who spoke on condition of not being quoted said they are under instructions from above to carry out the crackdown.