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Kenyan Blogger Detained Over Controversial Tweets

Controversial Kenyan blogger and Twitter user Robert Alai was detained in police cells on Tuesday 21 August, 2012, for allegedly abusing the Kenya Information and Communication Act.

Alai is accused of claiming that Kenyan government spokesperson Alfred Mutua wanted to kill him, and alleging Mutua's involvement in ordering the murder of human rights activists, Oscar King'ara and Paul Oulu, in 2009. Alai pleaded not guilty and was released on a cash bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings.

According to NairobiWire, the tweets that got Alai in trouble are the following [now offline]:

Robert Alai's tweet accusing government spokesperson of murder that got him into legal trouble.

Robert Alai's tweet accusing government spokesperson of murder that got him into legal trouble.

The foolish government spokesman called Alfred Mutua now threatens me and tells me that he will deal with me. #Justice4Karen #WomenLeadership

Alfred Mutua and Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere need to act and arrest Allassane Ba ASAP.#Justice4Karen

I have just told Alfred Mutua that one day he will leave that power he is misusing.#Justice4Karen

072124**** is Alfred Mutua's number he is using to threaten me. FOOLISH PIG is drunk with power. #Justice4Karen

Alfred Mutua ordered for the execution of G.P. Oulu and Oscar King'ara calling them Mungiki. He wants to do the same to me. #Justice4Karen

Robert Alai runs Tech Mtaa blog and runs a Twitter account with over 20,000 followers. On Twitter he describes himself as a ‘voice of the voiceless'.

Alai is a very controversial blogger who has stepped on many people's toes, as Erik Hersman explains in his post that begins with Voltaire's quote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”:

Robert Alai is blogging scum. Make no mistake. The quality of a person is not found in what they say, but in what they do, and Alai has proven time and time again that he is a bad actor.

If you know Robert Alai’s history in the tech scene in Kenya, then you know why he has been banned from the iHub. There’s a reason why the Skunkworks community ejected him multiple times over many years. There’s a reason why Nokia banned him. There’s a reason why Google blacklisted him. He consistently libels individuals for personal gain, to draw traffic and monetize his sites. For him it’s about attention, any way that he can get it.

However, he warns Kenyans on Twitter who are laughing at Alai’s predicament because tomorrow the government could tackle them with the same piece of legislation, that allows for censorship based on fuzzy details and definitions. He adds that the issue at hand is not about Alai:

This isn’t about Alai, he just happens to be playing the role of a jester, distracting us from the much greater story that is online and media censorship in Kenya. There were many of us who warned against the real danger in 2008 and 2009, this Kenyan Information and Communications Act that allowed for censorship based on fuzzy details and definitions, and how it could all be done at the behest of one man, with little oversight. While everyone wants to laugh and point fingers at Robert Alai, they won’t be laughing when this censorship gets applied to him.

This all stems from the Kenya Informations and Communications Act (PDF Version), which was amended after the post-election violence in 2009 in an effort to curb hate speech. It is a controversial amendment of the Kenya Communications Act, 1998 because it gives the state power to raid media houses and control the distribution of content.

After discussing two sections of the Act, he concludes by saying:

The real issue 4 years ago, and why this act was opposed by many, is that the act contained controversial provisions that sought to allow security agencies to seize property without due process, arrest and indefinitely detain suspects.

What the question should be for all of us with Robert Alai, is whether that is being tested on him. Was/is there due process? Who decides which media company gets raided? Who gets to say which blogger gets arrested, or which person on Twitter said the wrong thing?

This is not the first time Alai has found himself in trouble:

A few months back, another blogger, Dennis Itumbi, threatened to sue Alai for linking him to some ICC documents the former was arrested for. Just recently, Miguna Miguna also threatened to sue him for distributing his Sh 3300 book ‘Peeling Back The Mask’ in pdf format, free of charge to his thousands of twitter followers.

The tweets below show how netizens are divided about his case:

@MwaiKibaki [fake Kenyan President Twitter account]: Robert Alai is assisting the police with investigations and will be released after they are done with squeezing his nuts. #FreeAlai

@KimJobil: b careful what you tweet..huey Freeman”not every black man arrested is Nelson Mandela” #freealai freedom of speech gotta have limits

@MwisiWaKuku: @afelonyang “so #kot [Kenyans on Twitter] are just a bunch of humorous comedians who shy away from serious issues.” #FreeAlai is not a serious issue. Who cares?

@sickolia: Ati #FreeAlai?We want #FreeInternet and #FreeAlcohol

@RamzZy: You just yell #FreeAlai then when he logs in he insults your mothers. It's cool, hata mimi nililamba makamasi nikiwa mtoto.

@RamzZy: You just yell #FreeAlai then when he logs in he insults your mothers. It's cool, even me I licked mucous when I was a kid.

@peteretelej: Mutua is always misinforming the public, I don't see why he should be pissed with #RobertAlai doing the same. #FREEALAI

@dannyceo: Doesn't the govt. Have real issues like settling idp's, and fighting corruption? #FreeAlai

@MikeObare: His frequent tweets,mostly break news b4 several media houses and for that,he has been regarded by some as a ‘one man media house’ #FreeAlai

@dannyceo: I know @RobertAlai is a ***! But what the govt. Is doing, is infringing on his constitutional rights#FreeAlai

@mwirigy: U never know how u hate/like @RobertAlai n miss his rants on ur tl until he is neutered, sorry muted by kenya police #freealai :-D

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