ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate and unconditional release of blogger Robert Alai following his arrest on 18 June 2019. Alai was arrested for allegedly posting and sharing pictures of Kenyan police officers who were killed in a terror attack in Wajir on social media on 15 June. Despite having taken down the pictures at the request of police, Alai, who was arraigned in court on Wednesday morning, is being held by the Anti Terror Police Unit (ATPU) for 14 days pending investigation into the matter. Alai has been charged with disclosure of information in relation to terrorist activities under Section 19 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2012.
Robert Alai’s arrest followed a warning issued by the National Police Service (NPS) spokesperson Charles Owino on 17 June that any posting pictures or sharing photos of terror-related killings would not be tolerated. Owino said it was “not only unpatriotic but equally uncouth and unacceptable” to do so. This was echoed by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) which termed Alai’s action of sharing the pictures as unpatriotic and illegal. In a statement, NCIC, said that whereas Alai had the freedom of expression, such publications could be interpreted as propaganda for war which is not protected under the constitution of Kenya.
The government must stop its open hostility towards the media and the arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists, bloggers and social media users using this vague and ill-defined offences under new anti-terror laws. Such laws have a serious chilling effect with inhibition and discourages legitimate exercise of these natural and legal rights of journalists, bloggers, whistle-blowers or human rights defenders through fear of legal sanction.
Alai’s arrest contravenes Article 34 (2) of the Kenyan Constitution that protects freedom of the media; particularly the rights barring any control of state over or interference with any person engaged in broadcasting, production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium. Under these provisions, the state is also barred from penalizing any person for any opinion or view or the contents of any broadcast, publication or dissemination. Alai is the first Kenyan to be charged under the anti terror law.
The anti-terror laws violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples‘ Rights to which Kenya is a party, provides for the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The arrest of bloggers and social media users undermines the government’s obligations to uphold these laws.
ARTICLE 19 warns that the use of such legal provisions would create a powerful instrument enabling authorities to control journalistic activities and free expression online
“Alai’s arrest under the anti terror law violates his constitutional right to publish and disseminate information or contents in any medium, and his right to freedom of expression under international human rights laws. While seeking to deal with acts of terrorism in the country, authorities should not rely on security laws in a blanket manner to silence reporting in this way.” said Sandra Musoga, Senior Program Officer at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
For more media interviews please contact: Sandra Musoga, Senior Programme Officer, Access to Information, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Email: [email protected] or call on +254 20 3862230/1/2