International PEN protests the arrest and alleged police assault of Philo Ikonya and Fwamba N C Fwamba, president and member of Kenyan PEN, respectively, in Nairobi on February 18, 2009. The writers were reportedly arrested while taking part in a peaceful protest and severely beaten while in police custody. Ikonya and Fwamba, who both required hospital treatment following the attack, have been denied the right to lodge an official complaint against the police officer who assaulted them. PEN reminds the Kenyan authorities of their duty to protect their citizens, including their right to freedom of expression, assembly and peaceful protest, as well as freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It calls on the authorities to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the alleged police assault as a matter of urgency and to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Background Information

Philo Ikonya (f) is an author, human rights activist and the president of Kenyan PEN; Fwamba N C Fwamba is an Internet writer and a member of Kenyan PEN. Both were arrested on February 18, 2009, for taking part in a peaceful protest against hyperinflation and the rising price of maize flour at a time of famine reportedly threatening 10 million Kenyans. They were arrested outside the Kenyan parliament along with activist Patrick Kamotho, a member of Bunge la Mwananchi (People’s Parliament), a civil society forum purporting to offer an alternative to the official Kenyan National Assembly.

All three were reportedly severely assaulted while in police custody. The attack on Ikonya involved a police officer grabbing her near her breasts, ripping her clothes and threatening to kill her and Fwamba while being taken to the central police station in Nairobi. According to Ikonya, the same police officer carried out a similar assault on another female activist, Ann Njogu, in 2008. Despite this, he has since been promoted.

Ikonya was released on bail late the same night (February 18) following intervention by lawyers, local campaigners and associated media coverage. Fwamba and Kamotho were held overnight at separate police stations. All three appeared at the High Court on the morning of February 19, where they were charged with “taking part in an unlawful assembly” and released on bail of 10,000 Kenyan Shillings (approx. US$125) each.

Both Ikonya and Fwamba were hospitalized following their release to receive treatment for injuries sustained during the assault. Ikonya was taken directly to Nairobi Women’s Hospital with considerable bruising to the neck, chin and underarm area and her left hand. She was also suffering from anxiety related to her treatment in custody. She was discharged on February 21, and as of February 23 said she was making a good recovery from her physical injuries. Fwamba was admitted to the men’s section of the same hospital later on February 19 with stomach pain, from which he was still suffering as of February 23.

Ikonya and Fwamba have attempted to lodge a complaint against the police officer who assaulted them but this has been denied on three successive occasions. The first time, on the night of their arrest, the officers at the police station reportedly removed the complaints book, saying that they were not allowed to make a complaint against their "boss" and advising the writers that they would have to approach the police commissioner directly. Ikonya and Fwamba are currently in the process of producing an affidavit to act as evidence against the police officer concerned.

Ikonya has been involved in a number of protests and political readings recently and believes that the arrest and assault are related to her outspokenness on political matters. “The thing [the authorities] are most angry about is my voice,” she says.

Both Ikonya and Fwamba were previously arrested on August 7, 2007, for protesting against the arbitrary arrests of members of civil society, and were charged, along with nine others, with “taking part in an illegal demonstration.” Ikonya had also been arrested a week earlier, on July 31, 2007, when she had paid a hospital visit to two fellow writers and three other activists who had been arrested after taking part in a demonstration and were subsequently injured when the police car they were traveling in was involved in a traffic accident. Ikonya was detained overnight and released on bail the following day. Both of these cases are ongoing. Activist Patrick Kamotho has been arrested four times in the past.

The latest arrest of Ikonya and Fwamba takes place against a backdrop of widespread arbitrary arrests of activists in Kenya. For example, on February 21, approximately 23 members of Bunge la Mwananchi were reportedly arrested after attending readings commemorating Kenyan freedom fighter Kimathi Wa Chiuri and parliamentarian Pio Gama Pinto, and charged with “being members of an illegal sect.”

The incident comes less than a month after the murder of Weekly Citizen journalist Francis Nyaruri, who disappeared on January 15, 2009 and whose decapitated body was found on January 29. Prior to his death, Nyaruri was reportedly threatened by local police officers following publication of articles revealing police malpractice.

More information:

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the arrest of Philo Ikonya and Fwamba N C Fwamba, president and member of Kenyan PEN, respectively, on February 18, 2009 while taking part in a peaceful protest, and the alleged assault on them while in police custody;
  • Reminding the Kenyan authorities of their duty to protect their citizens and their right to freedom of expression, association, peaceful protest and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in line with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Kenya is party;
  • Calling on the authorities to conduct a full and impartial investigation into the alleged police assault on Ikonya and Fwamba as a matter of urgency, and to ensure that the police officer responsible is brought to justice.

Send Your Letter To

Hon. Mwai Kibaki C.G.H. M.P
President of Kenya
PO Box 30510-00100, Nairobi, Kenya
Fax: +254-20-313600
Email: [email protected]
Salutation: Your Excellency

Major General Mohamed Hussein Ali, M.G.H.
Commissioner of Police
PO Box 30083, Nairobi, Kenya
Fax: +254-20-240955
Salutation: Dear Commissioner

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Kenya in your country if possible.

Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after April 23, 2009: ftw[at]