State clamps down on hate meetings
Zadock Angira and Anthony Mwangi
The government will regulate political gatherings and punish anyone involved in violence or spreads hate speech, it was announced yesterday.
At the same time, the State unveiled a raft of measures to guide public meetings following growing political tension that culminated in the deadly Murang’a County confrontation that left two people dead during Deputy President William Ruto’s visit to the area last weekend.
The directives followed a meeting of the National Security Advisory Committee (NSAC) yesterday, which resolved that henceforth, all convenors of public meetings will have to notify the local police commander at least three days before the proposed date of the gathering.
Section 5 of the Public Order Act allows the local station commander to decline to issue permission if he or she feels it is not possible to hold the proposed meeting.
Section 5(6) of the same Act states: “Where the regulating officer notifies the organiser of a public meeting or public procession in accordance with subsection (3) that it is not possible to hold the proposed meeting or procession, such public meeting or procession shall not be held on the date, at the time and venue proposed.”
Addressing a press conference at Harambee House, Nairobi, yesterday, Head of Public Service and the chairperson of NSAC Joseph Kinyua, warned that the country was experiencing growing political tension that was creating division and pitting sections of politicians and their supporters against perceived opponents.
Kinyua was accompanied by Interior PS Karanja Kibicho, Solicitor General Ken Ogeto, Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai, Defence Principal Secretary Dr Ibrahim Mohammed and his Foreign Affairs counterpart Macharia Kamau.
He said: “The relevant security organs are directed to enforce these directives without fear or favour to the offenders, regardless of their economic standing, ethnicity, religion and political association and status.
“This situation is increasingly polarising the country along ethno-political lines, and, therefore, undermining national cohesion, peace and security and derailing our transformative economic agenda.”
NSAC warned that unchecked utterances and political weaponisation of public gatherings had created a situation of fear, despondency and political uncertainty besides continuing to undermine law and order.
“This disregard of the law has triggered violent confrontations among different groupings, thus threatening national security,” Kinyua said.
The measures came as Ruto claimed that police had hatched a scheme to stay away from the Murang’a function, leading to the ugly confrontations.
Speaking when he hosted a group of Kitengela market traders and boda boda riders in his Karen residence, Ruto warned that violence should not be used as a tool for politicking.
“It is tragic. It was actually premeditated that there should be violence for whatever reasons,” Ruto said, adding: “Let us use all other forms of competition but violence should be out of reach of any political competition. It must not be in the matrix and equation of our politics.”
The DP has been holding a series of 2022 campaign meetings styled as development tours and fundraising initiatives across the country, against President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to stop early campaigns.
Small scale traders
Ruto has also been hosting groups of mainly small scale traders and religious leaders at his Karen residence as he moves to consolidate his political support.
Yesterday, NSAC noted that recent political meetings have been characterised by speeches and utterances that incite and cause hatred, resentment and create tension within Kenya’s social fabric.
Kinyua said some people were taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of Kenyans people occasioned by the socio-economic shocks of Covid-19 to incite hatred.
“The country is only now recovering from the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sadly, some individuals are taking advantage of this.
In pursuit of cheap publicity, these individuals, in attempts to further their selfish political agenda, are inciting the youth who are fearful of their future,” he said.
NSAC resolved to remind Kenyans of the existing legal obligations and sanctions, and issued the directives which include notifying the OCS to be present through the meeting or procession and assist in the maintenance of law and order.
All convenors will be expected to obey all orders given to them by the station commanders or any officer of or above the rank of an inspector.
They will also be expected not to be in possession of any weapon and at all times bind themselves to be peaceful and keep to the designated places of public meetings.
NSAC warned that action would be taken against those who utter words that contain abusive and insulting language or any language that may expose an individual or group to violence, hatred or hostility.
Media outlets will be held responsible for all content that they publish and broadcast, the State said.
“The media shall not publish words intended to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on the basis of ethnicity or race.
They should also desist from providing platform to hate mongers, inciters and tribalists,” Kinyua stated.
Equally, all social media users have been warned that they will be held individually liable for all content on their social media profile.
The administrators of social media platforms, on the other hand, are duty-bound to moderate and control undesirable content and discussions that have been brought to their attention on their platforms.
“Before forwarding and or sharing any messages, social media users should authenticate and validate the source and truthfulness of their content so as to limit information that might spread rumours and mislead,” he said.