Crackdown on bloggers augurs badly for freedom of expression

It worries me that the authorities can claim “misuse of a licensed communication device” and use it to harass and intimidate those who commentate on the Internet.

Wednesday January 27 2016

It worries me that the authorities can claim “misuse of a licensed communication device” and use it to harass and intimidate those who commentate on the Internet. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By LARRY MADOWO
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I’m in court with a blogger who has sued me for defamation, ironically, for a post on my own blog. Yet here I am defending his right to freedom of speech, even though he doesn’t seem to believe in it himself.

It worries me that the authorities can claim “misuse of a licensed communication device” and use it to harass and intimidate those who commentate on the Internet. What kind of backward, colonial charge is this anyway?

My former colleague and now firebrand blogger, Yassin Juma, was picked up last weekend on the same flimsy premise. It is assumed it was about a blog he wrote about the painful Al Shabaab attack on our troops in El Adde, Somalia.

Friends say he had been worried for a few days that the Anti Terror Police Unit was out to get him. He is only the latest in a long list of bloggers or Twitter activists who have been hauled to court to answer to charges of misusing a licensed communication

device, whatever that is. Maybe those who draw up such charge sheets should put out a public service announcement with guidelines on how to use these devices so we don’t fall afoul of the law.

A friend shared a mobile phone video that seems to show plainclothes policemen executing a suspect in broad daylight.

They pull him into an alleyway off a well-known city street and bang! bang! It was circulating on WhatsApp and Facebook and was attracting considerable attention because of the frightening image it paints of the police force, nay, service.

“What do you make of this,” he wanted to know.

“You’re misusing a licensed communication device,” I told him in jest.

But he was sufficiently scared and offered to delete the video.

Meanwhile, National Police Service Chairman Johnstone Kavuludi told me on Sunday that only 6 per cent of the police service was corrupt. In their vetting process so far, they had dismissed only  2 per cent of senior officers and they believed the rest were

suitable to continue in office.

BIG TAKEAWAY

The big take-away here is that citizens are shying away from keeping their government accountable because of the fear of being dragged to court on trumped-up charges. The worst part is that this supposed misuse of communication gadgets “is attracting a

lot more effort from serikali than corruption, theft of public property, fraud, etc” as blogger @roomthinker pointed out. This is a tragedy for someone like me who believes in Alan Moore’s statement in  V for Vendetta: “People shouldn‘t be afraid of their

government. Governments should be afraid of their people."

In January alone, Eddy Reuben Illah, Cyprian Nyakundi, Waime Mburu, Patrick Safari, Elijah Kinyanjui, Judith Akolo and Yassin Juma have all been questioned in connection with their online activity.

The Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) has condemned the trend in what it calls “criminalisation of civil matters.”

It has been a busy month for the enemies of freedom of speech. “Article 33 of the Kenyan Constitution is categorical that every person has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, or impart information or ideas,” said Bake

Chairman Kennedy Kachwanya.

“The arrests of these online users do not reach the threshold for limitation of rights as enshrined in Article 33 (2). Thus these actions by the police are unconstitutional.”

The Independent Civil Society Organisation’s Article 19 has also raised the alarm that the intimidation and harassment of bloggers had hit a new high. “Article 19 urges the government to abide by the spirit of the Constitution regarding freedom of expression

and to stop using this provision to clamp down on legitimate expression and democratic debate,” wrote Henry Maina, director for Eastern Africa. The prosecutions point to a growing threat of intolerance by the government even as it harps on about the

Constitution and the democratic space it has opened in the country. “To the authorities, please note that the enemy is Al Shabaab, not bloggers or tweeps. You only win by beating the enemy,” tweeted Kirima Nturibi.

Bloggers is a blanket word in Kenya often used to refer to anybody who has ever posted anything on the Internet, even if they do not own a blog. Some of them use their online domains to defame others, to spread misinformation and half-truths, to extort

money from gullible Kenyans as well as to blackmail those naive enough to fall for it. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learnt about myself from blogs. The last year has also given rise to the political blogger, an oddity deserving of an entire column dedicated to

unpacking their dark arts. I still firmly believe in free speech despite the many ways it is abused, and the government has no business cracking down on it.

 

***

So long, James Quest, so long

For years, NMG directors posed for pictures with him and he took stunning shots of them. That was just one of the many hats James Quest wore. When he was not taking photographs, Quest dabbled in whatever he took an interest in: deejaying, directing,

computers or motorcycles. It is while on his bike that he met his death early on Friday morning on Waiyaki Way. Someone hit him from behind and did not bother to stop, leaving one of the bravest men I know to die alone in a ditch.

It broke my heart when his father thanked us, his friends, for having allowed him to serve. Quest was ever present for his friends and the biker community. We are the ones who are grateful that his family shared him with us. He was a gentleman in every

sense of that word; selfless, fearless and endless. Ride with the angels, my friend, I will miss you.

***

Uber is here and if local taxis don’t adapt, they will perish

The world’s largest taxi company does not own a single car. It pays no licensing fees to local authorities in the 300 cities in which it operates and does not have to worry about insuring the cars. All it owns is the technology that connects drivers with people who need a cab. For that little innovation, Uber takes 20 per cent of the cost of every ride.

In Nairobi, and almost everywhere it operates, the lowest offering UberX is cheaper than traditional taxis. It is facing strong opposition and even threats of violence against  its drivers in Kenya, like it has in a few other cities.

“We have received reports of isolated intimidation and harassment of our partner-drivers at the Oval — a commercial building complex — in Nairobi’s Westlands,” Uber said in a message sent to partner-drivers seen by the Business Daily.

A robust debate broke out online about how Uber was pricing out ordinary taxis and killing their business, with claims that it was a Dutch-registered company that paid no taxes here. Uber and Netflix are both getting pushback in Kenya because of the

disruption they bring to established industries. They are not breaking any laws and current players must adapt or die.

 

***

 

FEEDBACK: on Raila supporters’ reaction to Larry’s comment on his Eurobond tweet

Larry, I think you are hitting these guys below the belt. Firstly, the majority are probably an uneducated lot who do not understand many issues. Secondly, they did not read the Daily Nation to see what you wrote in response to their attacks. Thirdly, try

attacking Uhuru and see if the response will be any better – I have to say this because your heading seems to imply only Raila supporters do this.

Lastly, sometimes when you are in certain positions, you have to take a bit of criticism. It is called public life. You chose it. 

Dick Ndiewo

 

Larry, it’s sad that you got such insults for expressing your  opinion, and worse still, that they came from your tribesmen. You did not choose to be born in Luoland.

You are a professional and have the right to say what you feel is right or wrong. Don’t be deterred by cheap comments on social media.

A. Kihika

 

Mr Madowo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau was right – “Insults are the arguments employed by those who are in the wrong.”  Mr Odinga’s Luo followers, regardless of their status or education, have deified him and in their minds he is infallible. It is a tragedy of

monumental proportions. Please remain a warrior for truth, reason and justice even in the face of insults.

PLO Lumumba

 

Larry, thoughtless, fanatical hero worship demonstrates deep-rooted ignorance and plain stupidity. No man, not even an Einstein, is worthy of blind loyalty. Every human mind is prone to err, and fellow humans must probe and question why politicians encourage blind loyalty and personality cults in the mistaken belief that it improves their standing, while leaders discourage it because they want to build strong teams of thinking persons.

This is why you see politicians who steal our taxes, bribe voters and commit other crimes, hire gangs whenever they appear in court. It is meant to intimidate the judges and prove that the politician is “popular”.

Socrates, the great philosopher, encouraged everyone to contradict him so that he could learn. Sadly, we have many thoughtless people, and our politics is dominated by politicians instead of leaders. That is why we are so polarised along tribal/ “party”

lines.  We are doomed to remain “Third World” until we get a genuine messiah.

Ben

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