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SEKOU: Head of State and emerging political insults

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By SEKOU OWINO
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Kenyans are used to high-octane politics of opponents trading harsh words against each other.

However, there is often some political leeway given to the Head of State. The past few months have seen President Uhuru Kenyatta being at the sharp end of criticism that one cannot even call constructive criticism, it is plain insult.

Indeed, the President appears unfazed at least in public. Suffice it to say that the President advised other public officials a few weeks ago to have a thick skin.

The President seems to appreciate that in a constitutional democracy, robust criticism and even plain old insult that may not be fair, will be part of the game.

At the core of this is the realisation of the constitutional function for all being equal and that the Head of State is but a citizen with added responsibilities rather than superhuman abilities.

The truth is that this is not the case in all countries, and has not always been the case even in Kenya. Until 1997, Kenya had a law against sedition.

This made it a crime to publish words which tended to create disaffection against the person of the resident or the government generally.

At the zenith of the oppressive application of such laws in the 1980s, a priest was prosecuted under this law for statements he had made in his own private diary!

A part from the laws on seditious publications, there is a crime under the Penal Code known as undermining the authority of a public officer.

This section of the Penal Code was declared unconstitutional in the year 2017 when a blogger who had been charged under it for having insulted the President challenged it as an undue burden on freedom of expression.

The court agreed that the petition raised a significant question of whether criticism of a public officer is a ground for limiting a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution.

The judge said criminalising criticism is curtailing the right to speak about public officers, and it derogates one’s right to hold opinion.

Several countries have laws known as lèse-majesté laws. These are laws which make it a crime for an individual to detract from or affront the dignity of a sovereign power like a Head of State.

It emerged from the history of feudal States whose Head of State was often a monarch. The dignity of the monarch was fused with the sovereignty of the State.

To protect this sovereignty, it was a crime to insult the Head of State. Most of these laws were scrapped with absolute monarchies.

However, a few countries remain with some modification of these laws. One great surprise would be Germany.

In March, 2016, Germany surprised most of the world when it indicated that it would support the prosecution of a comedian who had recited a satirical poem on television which made lewd references to the President of Turkey.

In response to this reading of the poem, the Turkish President filed a complaint in Germany claiming that he had been insulted by the recitation.

This complaint was based on a paragraph in Germany’s penal Code from 1871 when Germany was still an empire.

The law read that insulting a foreign Head of State or a member of a foreign government in Germany, in an official capacity, was a crime punishable by imprisonment not exceeding three years.

The outrage was not only one of surprise that such a law still existed in Germany, but also the fact that it required the Cabinet to approve the investigation for the crime.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated in April 2016 that her government would permit the investigations and caused great consternation and outrage.

The prosecutor subsequently decided not to proceed with the charges, but this left most of Germany surprised that the law still existed and that a government could actually contemplate the prosecution of a citizen under it, especially on the complaint of a foreigner.

But Germany is not alone. Switzerland also has a law restricting the insulting of a foreign Head of State. It considers such insults as detrimental to its foreign policy.

Netherland has a similar law which could attract a sentence of up to five years.

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This law showed its majesty in 2007 when a 47-year-old was fined for insulting the queen of the Netherlands. Spain also fined a magazine for publishing a rude caricature of the Prince of Asturias.

In Europe, Poland’s law would probably be the harshest. In the year 2005, police arrested and charged some protesters for demonstrating against the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In 2012, Robert Frycz got a sentence of over one year for insulting the President on his website.

But none of this rivals the puerility to which Huber Hoffman was subjected. Mr Hoffman was arrested in a routine check at a railway station in Warsaw.

He then complained to the police that the President of Poland and his twin brother were responsible for turning Poland into a communist style dictatorship.

The police then castigated him and told him that he was under obligation to show more respect to the leaders. This is where the smelly response invoked criminal charges against him.

Maybe in the endeavour to exercise his right to remain silent, Mr Hoffman said nothing but spoke in another way. The police claim he loudly passed wind in response to the mention of the President.

Mr Hoffman was immediately arrested and charged with the offence of showing contempt to the office of the Head of State.

When Mr Hoffman failed to attend his trial, the court ordered a manhunt for him.

Outside the West, the lèse-majesté laws are more intense. In Thailand the law states that whoever defames, insults or threatens the monarch or his family or regent shall be punished with imprisonment for up to 15 years.

It is said that the insult could cover infractions such as critical text messages. In Saudi Arabia the lèse-majesté is literally terror: Insulting the King – both current or past – is considered as terrorism.

A law that took effect in 2014 states that actions that disturb public order to defame the reputation of the King are classified as terrorist acts.

In Venezuela a man was arrested by the military intelligence under similar laws for a speech which offended then-President Hugo Chavez.

In Africa, Cameroon has a similar law in the form of an offence known as sedition. That is, public criticism of the Head of State or his family is an express offence.

This might be common but there is a provision that is beyond belief: Truth is not a defence.

Put differently, in such a country, telling the truth would not be the liberating trait we know it to be. On the contrary, the truth jails, it wouldn’t save.

Zimbabwe is not far behind. In December 2018 a man named Terence MKhwanazi was facing charges of having insulted the President.

The deeds to support the crime were that he had, during a public hearing in Bulawayo, pointed at the President’s portrait and accused him of some misdeeds.

In Kuwait, the law declares that the King is immune and inviolable, and derogation of this could lead to imprisonment, and in some cases exile.

In Iran, the law goes beyond the Executive and Head of State.

The Penal Code declares that anyone who insults the leaders of the three branches of government due to their duties shall not only be punished by imprisonment of up to six months, but may also be flogged 74 lashes and also fined.

Peyman Aref, a student was flogged 74 times just before his release from prison after serving a year following his conviction for writing an insulting letter to then-President of Iran.

The prosecutions for insults to Heads of States may be rare in most countries. But not in Turkey.

A newspaper report indicates that between 2010 and 2017, 12,893 cases of insulting the President were instituted.

The courts have convicted about 2,000 persons for this offence. It shows that in Turkey, an aspiring member of the European Union, the law is still alive and kicking or rather jailing.

These examples on the whole show us that lèse-majesté laws may be on the wane in other countries but are astir in a number of cases.

Their existence shows one thing: the attitude of the society towards its leaders. That respect is necessary but adulation should not be compelled by law.

The writer is Head of Legal, Nation Media Group



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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