Kenya: New Media Law Provokes Protest, Arrests

12 December 2008

Nairobi — Kenyan police on Friday arrested several well-known media personalities who had gathered in Nairobi to demonstrate against a new media bill passed by Parliament this week.

The bill, which is now awaiting presidential ratification, would allow the government greater freedom to seize journalists' equipment and would empower government agents to open and search postal mail.

The arrests occurred shortly before the official celebration of Jamhuri Day, the Kenyan national holiday marking the end of British colonial rule.

During the official celebrations at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi, a well-known comedian was arrested while attempting to pass a note to a person on the main stage, and a ruckus broke out in the stands. Later, spectators booed President Mwai Kibaki's speech, which addressed food prices, technology development and fuel prices, promised more funds for youth education and expressed commitment to a new constitution.

In a live broadcast of proceedings, KTN television, which is owned by the East African Standard media group, ran an advertisement over Kibaki's image which read "Protect Media Freedom. Protect Your Right To Know." The broadcast also showed a demonstrator being arrested and removed from the stadium. Kibaki ended his speech shortly thereafter.

Protesters are demonstrating their general dissatisfaction with the coalition government, formed in March to appease the country's two largest political parties after ethnic violence and widespread rigging of polls following the December 2007 presidential elections. Earlier this week, American Ambassador Michael Ranneberger called for the immediate implementation of reforms and urged MPs to pass "relevant legislation that is in the interest of all Kenyans."

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