Nairobi — I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
There has long been a debate on who first used these words, often attributed to French philosopher Voltaire. But the important thing is that the immortal words express perfectly the libertine attributes expected of any functioning democracy.
The right to free speech and to impart and receive ideas must always be held sancrosant, along with the freedoms of association and assembly as well as thought, conscience and all the others that define the line between democracy and tyranny.
The riots and street battles in Nairobi on Friday show that we have a long way to go before we fully practise, observe and respect the rights enshrined in the Constitution.
When we deny citizens the right to express themselves, and respond with force every time a group tries to exercise the right to free assembly and to march together, we only provoke violence.
If the group that wanted to march yesterday to protest the detention and planned expulsion of Jamaican preacher Abdulllah al-Faisal had been allowed to go on, chances are that the protest would have ended without an incident.
Police ought not to have intervened unless to restore law and order.
Besides, they made the situation worse by standing idly by when another group of stone throwers took the battle to the demonstrators.