ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa today expressed serious concerns over the unlawful arrest and detention of Edwin Mutemi wa Kiama, an online social justice activist. He was released without charge after 20 hours in detention.
Kiama runs the ‘The Wanjiku Revolution Movement’ website and the ‘Mwalimu Mutemi wa Kiama’ twitter handle, and is an ardent supporter of ARTICLE 19’s #Missing Voices campaign. He was arrested on 9 June by seven police officers, hours before the curfew in Nairobi commenced and taken to Capital Hill Police Station.
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa has seen an affidavit filed before the Kibera Law Courts, which suggests that the Department of Criminal Investigations – Special Services Unit – intended to charge Kiama for ‘publishing false/ data/information,’ using social media under sections 22 and 23, Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act (2018). Additionally, the document alleged that Kiama was ‘intruding the accounts of several auditors and publishers,’ and re-editing other publishers’ books. But the document did not mention which books or authors. It is also unclear which legislative framework these latter charges are under. Kiama denies all allegations.
“We welcome Kiama’s release, but he should never have been arrested in the first place. The authorities should refrain from intimidating and harassing activists providing critical commentary on public affairs and social justice issues in Kenya,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. “The police should immediately return his belongings, which they took when he was arrested.”
A few minutes before his arrest, Kiama had uploaded a video on Facebook documenting his fear about unidentified persons, who were later identified as police officers, knocking at his door. These individuals forcefully gained entry into Kiama’s apartment and, according to reports, confiscated Kiama’s equipment, including two laptops and a phone.
“We are very concerned that some of the officers put Kiama at unnecessary risk of contracting COVID-19 by failing to adhere to the public health advisories. Specifically, some officers were not wearing masks and failed to observe social distancing guidelines,” continued Mugambi Kiai.
Kiama, who was detained overnight, was eventually released from police custody without any formal charges being levied nearly twenty hours later. Human rights defenders think that Kiama was arrested solely for his online activism, specifically a Twitter thread on Kenya’s colonial and post-colonial history.
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa is concerned that various legislative frameworks, including the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act (2018) the Copyright Act (2001), and the Books and Publication Act (CAP 111) continue to arm authorities with arbitrary and disproportionate powers which interfere with human rights protections in Kenya.
These frameworks grant wide search-and-seize powers to police officers, without the requirement for judicial oversight (i.e., obtaining a warrant), and contain punitive criminal penalties. ARTICLE 19 urges the authorities to replace these penalties with civil remedies which meet the proportionality test when limiting free expression, as opposed to criminal sanctions whose effect, and often design, is to stifle free speech.
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa notes, with concern, that there has been an increase in the number of incidences of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers in Kenya. These incidences have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic period, following the government’s introduction of various measures further restricting human rights.
For more information, please contact: Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director at [email protected]