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70 arrested over media law protest

Friday December 12 2008

Mr Macharia Gaitho, the chairman of the

Mr Macharia Gaitho, the chairman of the Editors Guild, addresses journalists outside Langata Police Station, Nairobi, where civil society activists and radio presenters were being held on Friday. On the right is the treasurer, Mr David Makali. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI  

By FRED MUKINDA

More than 70 people, among them journalists were arrested at Jamhuri day celebrations and locked up at various stations in Nairobi.

Police targeted people who wore T-shirts that bore messages of dissatisfaction with the recently passed Communications bill, which is designed to curtail the freedom of the press.

Police said their presence would have marred the celebrations presided by President Kibaki at the Nyayo stadium.

The T-shirts also had messages denouncing the high food prices, failure to tax MP’s salaries as well as failure to implement the Waki Report.

Police officers started picking up them before the celebrations kicked off.

Some of those arrested were picked up by police in plain clothes as they sat on the terraces while they waited for the President to arrive. Others were seized as they walked towards the venue.

In other cases, police forced the people they arrested to remove the T-shirts and confiscated them.

The T-shirts bore messages like, ‘Tumechoka (We’re tired)’, ‘Enough is Enough’, ‘No MPs Tax Uta Do (What can you do?)’

Radio presenters Caroline Mutoko, Larry Asego , Felix Odiwuor Kodhe (Jalango) and QFM’s presenter Walter Mong’are (Nyambane) were arrested moments after they alighted from their vehicles near the Stadium.

Mwalimu Mati and his wife Jayne, both of the Mars group, a human rights non-governmental organisation, were also arrested.

Those arrested were first held at the police post at the stadium and later transferred to Lang’ata police station.

Freeing them

They were held for more than six hours before police started freeing them minutes after 5 pm.

Other people arrested were held at Kilimani, Buruburu and Gigiri police stations.

Ms Mutoko, Mr Asego and Jalango were the first to walk free while Mong’are had been transferred to Nairobi area police headquarters before walking free.

Civil rights activists, lawyers and official of the Kenya Editor’s Guild camped at the Lang’ata station to demand the release of those arrested.

Kenya Editor’s Guild chairman Macharia Gaitho condemned the government for carrying out the arrests.

He said: “We’ve had very sad happenings today. Journalists and members of the civil society have been arrested for expressing their opinions.”

Mr Gaitho termed the Communications Bill draconian saying it was meant to gag the media.

The chairman questioned its timing, noting it was passed in parliament “just after the media exposed the MPs salaries and their failure to pay taxes.”

“It’s dictatorship by parliament targeting all our civil liberties,” he added.

Mr Gaitho also demanded that those arrested be released immediately, followed by formal apology by President Kibaki and Prime minister Raila Odinga.

The Editor’s Guild also wants the government to adequately compensate those who sustained injuries during the round up.