Police in Ijara, Garissa County, are preparing a blasphemy charge against a primary school teacher alleged to have trampled on the Koran during an English lesson.
The teacher faces up to three years in prison if convicted.
Although Kenya has no penal law specific to blasphemy, local police are invoking a rarely used section of the Penal Code to charge the teacher with the crime of insulting religion.
They intend to arraign him this morning according to Ijara OCPD Emanuel Rono, who spoke to The Standard yesterday.
Mr Rono said the teacher was treated for injuries sustained in an attack by a mob that wanted to lynch him last Wednesday.
Section 134 of the Penal Code states: “Any person who destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship or any object which is held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, is guilty of a misdemeanour.”
A misdeamenour is less stringent than a felony under the Penal Code but attracts a fine or jail term of no more than three years, depending on a magistrate’s discretion.
It is not clear whether anyone has been charged or convicted under this law in independent Kenya. Twice in the past two decades, the State has drawn such charges against suspects but withdrawn before trial.
The unnamed teacher was treated for injuries when enraged residents invaded Taqwa Academy in Masalani township in Ijara sub-county last Wednesday and tried to lynch him.
According to Rono, the first attack occurred last Monday but snowballed into a crisis two days later when the mob stormed the school.
According to witnesses, the 30-year-old male teacher lost his front teeth in the attack and was bleeding profusely when the police rescued him.
On Friday, 42 imams from local mosques led a demonstration in the township demanding the teacher’s removal from the area.
What really happened remains unclear but residents have piled pressure on the police, claiming the teacher not only trampled the holy book but also depicted it as “rubbish”.
Some reports indicate that the school's pupils told their parents about the alleged trampling, sparking instant and widespread angry reactions that soon spilled into market places and mosques.
It is unclear how the non-Muslim teacher came in touch with a Koran during an English lesson for a Standard Four class although some reports say it belonged to one of the pupils.
During the protest, hundreds of Masalani town residents marched to the police station chanting "Allahu Akbar!" (God is great) as they demanded action against the teacher.
Business came to a standstill as traders closed their shops and joined the protesters who included elders, women and youths carrying placards and copies of the holy book.
Led by local religious leaders, the protesters however said the incident was an isolated case and they would not allow religious intolerance, adding that individuals who caused disharmony should be dealt with.
“We are really pained by this incident. We are however peace-loving citizens who won’t allow anyone to interfere with religious tolerance,” said Mohamed Osman Roble, a religious leader.