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Tread carefully on social media breaches

By The Standard | Published Sun, January 31st 2016 at 00:00, Updated January 30th 2016 at 23:50 GMT +3

There has been a whirl of activities following a string of arrest of bloggers and other individuals on account of content they have posted on various social media platforms. It is no surprise that the sudden spike in the rate of arrests is causing concern in some quarters. This was bound to happen because some of those arrested were journalists who enjoy special protections under the law, or bloggers with huge followings on social media platforms.

However, some of the actions by the police officers making the arrest must be condemned because they are crude, and pose a grim reminder of the dark days of autocratic rule when incarcerations were designed to intimidate. In one such arrest last week, a blogger who had made a pretty harmless remark about a politician was driven to various police stations in the capital before he was ultimately taken by road to face charges in a Mombasa court. Not surprisingly, the court dismissed the case out of hand and all charges were dropped.

A journalist was also arrested over some content he posted on social media about the Kenya Defence Forces engagements in Somalia where the military is battling the Al-Shabaab terror group. Equally as flimsy, another individual was arrested for retweeting a controversial government advertisement—a public document.

These actions by the police are not hallmarks of a nation that prides itself as having a free society where the rule of law is respected and obeyed. Rather, these actions portray an alarming state of intolerance from authorities who seem averse to any form of criticism.

It may very well be that these actions by the arresting authorities are isolated and the fact that they happened in a short span was by sheer coincidence. But the fact that they came following dire warnings by the Interior and National Coordination of Government Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery — with dark threats of arrests of social media users — could paint the government in a corner. The government must be careful not to portray itself as autocratic and intolerant to criticism.

And while we appreciate that laws the espouse Freedom of Expression must be counter-balanced by other statutes that place limits to various freedoms, the spirit of the Constitution places a premium on civil liberties.



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