After the first case of the Coronavirus was announced by Health CS Mutahi Kagwe, Kenyans reacted in different ways. Some flooded supermarkets to buy out all the sanitizers they could find in panic, while others went about their normal life believing that the disease was a ruse by the government to get financial aid. No matter how they reacted, there was one common factor in these two groups of people, and that was the thirst for information about the disease.
With this also came with the challenge of misinformation and disinformation and as a result, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) intensified its crackdown on Kenyans sharing information or their opinions that contravened the government’s position regarding COVID-19, especially on social media.
During that time, Dagoretti South MP John Kiarie came under immense scrutiny over his Twitter thread claiming that 7,000 people were quarantined by the government in various facilities. The Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe had refuted these claims saying the figure was grossly exaggerated, saying at the time, that only 2,050 people were under quarantine in 14 government hotels and facilities across the country.
After being summoned by the detectives, the MP had presented himself to Kabete Police Station where he was questioned. He is said to have cooperated. After he agreed to clarify and apologize for his post, John Kiarie was released before the curfew deadline to avoid getting in more trouble for violating the 7 PM-5 AM lockdown.
What irks is the fact that the MP was not charged for the alleged alarming posts but some online content creators and bloggers have been charged with publishing false information on their social media platforms about the COVID-19.
Blogger Robert Alai was charged for allegedly publishing false information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kenya after he questioned the government on the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the country. His charge sheet alleged that he knew that his post would cause alarm and panic in the country.
Another blogger, Cyprian Nyakundi was charged for allegedly publishing false information about a Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) official on social media platforms contrary to section 23 of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act. His charge sheet claimed that he calculated to cause alarm and panic and injure the KRA official’s reputation.
A citizen, an employee at KQ was suspended for allegedly recording and posting a video on social media about a Chinese Airline plane landing at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) with 239 passengers on board.
Another 23-year-old man was arrested in Mwingi for allegedly publishing false, misleading and alarming information on the Coronavirus on social media, also supposedly calculated to result to panic.
It shows bias and vagueness in the application of laws, especially the ones dealing with freedom of expression in Kenya. People in power get away with breaking the law while normal citizens suffer at the hands of the very law that was put in place to protect them. We are all equal in the eyes of the law, and no one should be above it regardless of their position in power.
John Kiarie hasn’t apologized for his social media post as yet.