NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan police on Tuesday arrested three top politicians for hate speech they allegedly made during rallies against a draft constitution, days after a separate rally turned deadly when grenade attacks killed six people.
Authorities arrested an assistant government minister and two members of parliament who police say made hate speech as they campaigned separately against the draft constitution in rallies across the country.
Assistant Minister for Roads Wilfred Michage and lawmakers Fred Kapondi and Joshua Kutuny were arrested Tuesday morningPolice Commissioner Mathew Iteere said the three, who were not available for comment after their arrest, may be charged in court Wednesday.
Iteere did not say what the men said or at which rallies they made the comments. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission, which gave their names to police, told local media they started their investigations last week, before Sunday's blast.
Iteere also warned Kenyans against inciting violence and spreading lies during the campaign for and against the constitution. Kenya votes on the draft constitution on Aug. 4.
"If you know if you are attending those meetings and you know your utterances border on hate speech then you will be arrested and charged in court," Iteere said.
Human rights groups and observers say hate speech fueled Kenya's 2007-08 postelection violence that killed over 1,000 people, leading the government to pass an anti-hate speech law.
But fears have risen in Kenya that campaigns for and against the draft constitution may polarize Kenyans and spark another round of violence.
Attackers on Sunday threw three grenades into a crowd of thousands protesting against the constitution in a downtown Nairobi park. The blasts killed six people and wounded more than 100.
Iteere said he hopes a $6,250 reward for information on the attacks will speed up the investigation.
Those who attended the rally were opposed to the draft constitution because it would allow abortions in life-threatening pregnancies and recognize Islamic courts.
Bishop Pius Muiru, a prominent evangelical leader in Kenya, warned Tuesday that the country is polarized and that violence could break out regardless of the outcome of the constitutional referendum. He said political leaders must contain the situation.
"If what has happened on Sunday is something to go by then I do not see a light at the end of the tunnel, I see darkness," said Muiru.
The vote on a new constitution was part of a reform package the government agreed to undertake in a deal that ended the postelection violence. Kenya's current charter gives sweeping powers to the president and is blamed for creating inequalities among Kenyan ethnic groups that observers say was partially responsible for the violence.
Mzalendo Kibunjia, the head of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, a government commission working to promote unity, said divisive remarks by politicians could spark more violence. Kibunjia said campaigns for a 2005 constitutional referendum were part of the build-up to the violence that started after the contentious Dec. 2007 national vote.
"The danger in such utterances is that it can incite people," Kibunjia said.