International PEN welcomes the release of Kenyan PEN President Philo Ikonya and a student activist following their arrest yesterday while taking part in a peaceful demonstration against corruption in Nairobi. Both were acquitted of taking part in an illegal demonstration this morning and are in good health. PEN thanks all members who took immediate action in this case; no further action is required.

Background Information

Philo Ikonya (author, human rights activist and president of Kenyan PEN) was arrested on the afternoon of September 8, 2009 while taking part in a peaceful protest and poetry reading outside the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission (KACC) in Nairobi. She was detained alongside Jacob Odipo (not Kenyan PEN Secretary General Kingwa Kamencu, as previously reported), who is a media student and member of the civil society group Bunge la Mwananchi (People’s Parliament).

Ikonya and Odipo were taken to Kilimani police station in Nairobi and charged with taking part in an illegal demonstration. They were detained overnight and appeared in court this morning. The magistrate ruled that the charges were defective and ordered their release. Ikonya and Odipo were held in a cramped and unsanitary cell, but were not otherwise ill treated. Both are in good health.

Ikonya and Odipo, along with Kamencu and Kenyan PEN Treasurer Khainga O’Okwemba, were protesting against President Mwai Kibaki’s reappointment of Justice Aaron Ringera as Chair of the KACC for a second five-year term despite the fact that not a single senior official has been convicted of corruption to date. Both Ikonya and Kamencu were carrying placards bearing stanzas from poems they had written on impunity. One of these was as follows:

Impunity breeds disunity
Set Kenya free
Give back our liberty

Ringera must go
Wako must go
Ali must go

(Ringera is the newly re-appointed Chair of the KACC; Amos Wako is Attorney General; Mohamed Hussein Ali was the Police Commissioner until yesterday afternoon, when he was reshuffled to Postmaster General following criticism of extrajudicial killings and human right violations attributed to the police under Ali’s tenure.)

According to Kamencu, “A very glaring issue of suppression of freedom of expression stands here. In addition to reciting the poetry, Philo was dressed in a sack-dress that had pieces of manila paper sewn on it with poems and writings expressing discontent at impunity and the re-appointment of Ringera. When she was arrested they tried to take away her dress and removed the writings she had sewn onto it.”

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Thank you to all who sent appeals.