An assistant minister and two Members of Parliament were arrested on Tuesday and are to be charged with hate speech.
Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi was arrested at Continental House near Parliament, Kuria MP Wilfred Machage was flagged down and arrested on Forest Road in Nairobi’s Parklands neighbourhood while Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny drove himself to the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters on Kiambu Road. Dr Machage is the assistant minister for Roads.
Mr Kapondi was placed under arrest minutes after 8am, following a night of cat-and-mouse games with detectives. All the MPs are from the ‘No’ group opposed the draft constitution.
Thirteen MPs from the camp, led by Higher Education minister William Ruto and his Special Programmes counterpart Naomi Shaban, went to CID offices to show solidarity with those arrested and expressed outrage at what they claimed was a government plot to silence dissent.
Mr Ruto and Mr Jirongo left the CID headquarters around 8pm and said Mr Machage, Mr Kapondi and Mr Kutuny were likely to spend the night in custody and to appear in court on Wednesday.
The MPs were being interviewed by officers and recording statements. Asked how long police were going to hold the MPs before taking them to court, the Commissioner of Police, Mr Mathew Iteere, told the Nation: “If it does not contravene the 24-hour rule, then we’re quite in order.”
Guard the peace
He said the authorities were determined to stamp out what they regard as incitement. “Unless we deal with this now, we may end up where we were two years ago. We must guard the peace we have now,” he said.
On Monday, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission said it had evidence of hate speech against Higher Education William Ruto and the MPs arrested. It also listed MPs Julius Kones and Mohammed Sheikh Dor and political activist Christine Nyangitha, who presented herself to detectives at CID headquarters.
The commission’s chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia said the evidence had been handed over to the police. Speaking to journalists, Mr Iteere confined his remarks to Mr Kutuny, Dr Machage and Mr Kapondi. He made no reference to Mr Ruto or the other MPs.
“Police have noticed that those for or against the proposed law have been propagating hate speech against their opponents. Police are warning those inciting and peddling untruths and hate speech that stern action will be taken as provided for in the National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008,” Mr Iteere said, adding, the MPs would be charged with incitement on Wednesday.
“If you attend those rallies and your utterances border on hate speech, we will arrest and charge you,” he warned. Mr Kapondi was helped to evade arrest by Belgut MP Charles Keter on Monday night. Detectives had laid a trap for Mr Kapondi outside Continental House. The Powers and Privileges Act prohibits officers from arresting an MP within the precincts of Parliament.
Mr Kapondi, who chairs the House committee on National Security, sought refuge in his office. Mr Keter drove into Continental House at 3am and drove out a few minutes later, with Mr Kapondi tucked away on the back seat. Five hours later, he returned him to the parking lot and informed the officers keeping vigil:
“Officers, I understand you wanted to arrest Hon Kapondi. I have him with me here and he is ready to accompany you to the Police headquarters,” a security officer who witnessed the exchange said. Mr Keter insisted that he would drive his colleague to the CID offices and invited the officers to come along.
At 8.30am, with Mr Keter at the steering wheel, the Mt Elgon MP on the passenger seat, the Belgut MP’s bodyguard and the two policemen at the rear and Mr Kapondi’s wife following in a different car, the party headed to Kiambu Road. Speaking at the CID offices, the ‘No’ camp claimed the three MPs had been arrested to divert attention from Sunday’s grenade attack on a prayer meeting at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park.
Mr Ruto said the government was “looking for every opportunity to paint the ‘No’ team as negative.” He said it was unfair for the government to carry on as if it is only those opposed to the draft who engage in hate speech. More than seven hours after arrest, the MPs were still waiting to record their statements.
“You therefore don’t have to be intelligent to know that there’s a conspiracy here to silence people in the ‘No’ camp,” Mr Ruto claimed. “The government has all of a sudden realised that this battle (for a new constitution) is no walkover to be dictated by euphoria. “We shall not be blackmailed or even intimidated by the government to abandon our stand on the proposed constitution. It is our constitutional right to advance whatever position we have taken on the draft,” he said.
“What constitutes hate speech... is it when you say what the government does not agree with? Let’s be fair, if those involved in hate speech are being punished, let it be across the board, not the ‘No’ team alone.” The ‘No’ team wants Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Lands minister James Orengo, his Medical Services counterpart Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o and Gem MP and government Chief Whip Jakoyo Midiwo investigated for alleged hate speech.
Mr Ruto said it was now clear that the ‘Yes’ team had run out of ideas to market the draft constitution across the country and was now using hate speech “as their campaign tool”.
Reports by Walter Menya, Njeri Rugene, Fred Mukinda, Dominic Wabala and Dave Opiyo