Leaders dismiss contentious bill as calls on Uhuru to reject it get louder

Kenya Correspondents Association Chairman William Janak (right) confers with members in Nakuru. Mr Janak said the media bill will hinder the unveiling of shady activities in Government. [PHOTO: BONIFACE THUKU/STANDARD

KAKAMEGA: Leaders from various sectors have criticised the draconian bill seeking to gag the media and appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to reject it.

Amani National Congress (ANC) party leader Musalia Mudavadi termed the bill as a bad experiment in legal impunity, while former Imenti Central MP and lawyer Gitobu Imanyara said it should not be allowed to become law as it reverses the gains of the Constitution.

In a statement to The Standard, Mudavadi said the move by MPs paints the National Assembly as an unlawful example of an institution in governance.

"The bill makes Parliament a monarchy, not open to public scrutiny. This cannot be allowed.  The bill is therefore unconstitutional," he said.

Mudavadi called on the President to reject the bill in the interest of protecting the country from what he called legislative tyranny and dictatorship.

Imanyara, who founded the Nairobi Law Monthly in 1987 while serving a jail term, said the freedom of the Press is one of the basic rights enshrined in the Constitution and the bill becoming law would reverse the gains made. "The President spoke well and showed support for journalists during the CNN Africa Journalist of the Year Awards and now he needs to show that he meant what he said by not assenting to that bill into law," Imanyara said.

He said in case the President assents to the bill, he was sure it would be contested in court and get reversed.

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) also condemned the bill, saying MPs were hell-bent on taking the country back to the old days.

Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli said a free and independent press is an important component of any democratic country.

"As leaders, we should accept all manner of criticism from any Kenyans, including the media. This constitutes a free and democratic country, where every citizen should exercise his/her freedom of expression undeterred," he said.

Atwoli said the democratic space that Kenyans, including MPs, enjoy today was hard fought for and criticism of any kind is part of the space.

"As a country, we risk degenerating into a new wake of the 1980s/90s detention without trials by passing such draconian laws and as Kenyans, we will never ever allow any arm of the Government to take us through this route. The President should reject this law with the contempt that it deserves," he said.

Masinde Muliro University deputy Vice Chancellor and Communications lecturer Egara Kabaji, lawyers' chair Carlestous Shifwoka and Kakamega Bishops and Pastors Chair Julius Abungana asked President Kenyatta to reject the bill.

Prof Kabaji questioned the timing of the bill, saying it comes when Kenyan media and civil society are ranked among the most liberal and free in Africa.

"As communicators, we advise the President to consult widely with his legal team and media stakeholders because the bill may not have come from Parliament in good faith. The country's freedom of expression was gained through sweat and blood no one wants to return there," said Kabaji, adding: "Anybody who thinks of reversing the gains is insincere."

"The bill has come up after journalists exposed the underhanded deals going on in the parliamentary committees," said Shifwoka.

Speaking to The Standard at the Kakamega Law Courts yesterday, Shifwoka said all was not lost for the fourth estate and expressed optimism that the President would not assent to the bill.

Uasin Gishu ODM Chairperson David Songok said they will challenge the MPs' move through their party leader Raila Odinga.

Head of Communications Department at University of Eldoret Phillip Chebunet said the bill is meant to intimidate the fourth estate whose role has always been to inform the public.

"It is illegal and unconstitutional because it contradicts the oaths taken by the same leaders to uphold the Constitution," he said.