By Kiratu Kamunya
Kenya is celebrating the second anniversary of the new Constitution. One of the jewels in the new dispensation is the expanded and reinforced Bill of Rights under Chapter Four of the Constitution.
In the chapter, freedom of expression is reiterated in a liberal sense under Article 33. As we seek to consolidate gains since the new Constitution took effect, we must watch out for retrogressive forces that are out to scuttle the process of chasing the Kenyan dream where nobody will be a prisoner of conscience.
In this regard, the assault on Miguna Miguna by groups of youth in Mombasa and Kisumu during his tour of the counties to popularise his controversial book, Peeling Back the Mask, must be condemned.
The hoodlums behind these senseless attacks have apparently been incensed because of what they consider unfavorable reference to the Prime Minister and who they vow to ferociously defend. There can be no justification for mounting such crude attacks on any one simply because you do not agree with what they say.
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Where people get apprehensive that freedom of expression has been abused, they should look for remedies in the legal safeguards, which have been formulated for that purpose. They must not take the law into their hands and act with impunity.
It should also be clear that in the emerging Kenya, nobody is beyond scrutiny. Our leaders must be subjected to thorough interrogation on their conduct and fitness to hold public office. There are no exceptions to this requirement.
Supporters of political leaders must jealously guard this right especially when exercised on their favourite candidates. As Chomsky Noam put it, if we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.
Prudence demands that the Prime Minister for whose sake these youths have attacked Miguna should have disowned their conduct promptly and without equivocation. (On Thursday, the Prime Minister did this, and also placed paid for-ads asking the public to let Miguna Miguna enjoy his freedom of expression).
Failure to condemn these attacks would have led credence to a famous quote by Forster Edward that “we are willing enough to praise freedom when she is safely tucked away in the past and cannot be a nuisance. In the present, amid dangers whose outcome we cannot foresee, we get nervous about her and admit censorship.”
These attacks must also be condemned for the sake of peace. In an environment of heated and heightened political competition, sharp differences are bound to emerge. Does this mean that we are not going to accommodate views from opposing camps? This country is yet to heal the wounds inflicted by what transpired in the aftermath of 2007 General Election. Leaders will be expected to campaign without inhibition.
There should be an assurance that nobody is going to mobilise groups of youths to attack opponents on account of political differences.
Civilisation does not guarantee immunity from provocation, but imposes a duty of restraint on the victim. Whereas we may disapprove of what other people say, we must defend to death their right to say it.
Something else, which has caught the keen eye of many observers, is the meticulous organisation of these groups of attackers. They appear to be well mobilised and strategically positioned waiting to pounce. Who is inciting these youths? Who is their financier? The law enforcement agencies must get to the bottom of these questions. It is disheartening to note that nobody has been arrested in connection with the attacks.
The days of acting with impunity are long gone. The police should arrest the culprits some of who have been caught on cameras.
The writer is a lawyer