Kenya reins in hate speech ahead of constitution vote
Fears are rising of a repeat of the inflammatory speech seen ahead of the 2007 elections, which unleashed a wave of deadly ethnic violence. The recent arrests of three members of parliament for hate speech is a positive change.
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L. Muthoni Wanyeki, executive director of the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, agrees. “There are disturbing moves to entrench stereotypes of different groups ... especially Kenyans who are Muslims, to sow divisiveness that way,” she says. Key issues for constitution opponents are abortion and special Islamic courts, which church groups and the referendum No camp say are in the draft.Skip to next paragraph
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A Facebook page purportedly set up on behalf of Mr. Ruto, the higher education minister, has come under scrutiny for inflammatory posts that would easily break the hate speech law. Ruto has denied he controls the site’s content. But he and his team have been accused of pandering to common prejudices, for example, claiming that the draft allows homosexuality.
Ruto was also quick to finger high-level supporters of the draft constitution – namely President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga – as being responsible for perpetrating twin bombings June 13 that killed six at an anti-constitution rally. The allegation was widely dismissed, and the attacks remain under investigation.
Simeon Chepseba, a councilor in Iten, in the Rift Valley, attended a No rally earlier this month. What he heard, he said, was “tantamount to calling on the Kalenjin [tribe] to evict other communities from the Rift Valley.” John Kimosop, from nearby Eldoret – hit worse by the fighting – said he heard politicians advise young people to “be ready for a revolution.”
There is no sense yet that the debate will spark the kind of violence seen after the 2007 election. “Yes, it’s important that people have been arrested,” says Mr. Mati, the anticorruption campaigner. But, he adds, “Until we truly get to the bottom of resolving those problems, real change is a ways off yet.”
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Recent arrests of parliamentarians on hate speech charges show that tough rules set down after postelection violence killed 1,300 people in 2007 are being enforced. They face a growing test between now and an August referendum.