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Kenya MPs arrested for hate speech during campaign against new constitution

Three members of the Kenyan Parliament [official website] were arrested Monday after being accused of hate speech in statements made against Kenya's proposed constitution [text, PDF]. The three parliamentarians were among six that were accused [BBC report] of hate speech Monday, including Assistant Minister for Roads Wilfred Machage and Minister of Higher Education William Ruto [official profiles], for statements made last week during the campaign leading up to the August 4 constitutional referendum, which were described as bordering on incitement [Daily Nation report]. Among the statements made are those claiming that residents of the Rift Valley, an epicenter of post-2007 election violence [NYT report], will be uprooted and that there will be a war between Muslims and Christians if the new constitution goes into effect. The parliamentarians have denied the accusations, claiming that they are politically motivated due to their opposition to the constitution, which is supported by the government. They are scheduled to be formally charged Wednesday. Also Monday, the chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, created after the 2007 election violence [allAfrica report] requested that the referendum campaign be postponed in order to avoid the outbreak of violence. On Sunday, six were killed [JURIST report] at a prayer meeting organized by the campaign against the new constitution in an attack that the organizers have accused the government of orchestrating. The proposed constitution faces criticism from Kenyan religious figures who oppose the draft's position on abortion [Daily Nation report], marriage and divorce. Kenyan Christian groups also oppose the proposed constitution because it would reinstate the system of Islamic courts found unconstitutional [JURIST report] under the current constitution.

Earlier last month, Wako published the country's draft constitution [JURIST report], which proposes more balance of power in the government. President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga [official profiles] supported the proposed constitution [Daily Nation report] and have urged citizens to approve it in the public referendum. The draft includes several significant checks on presidential authority, including a requirement that presidential appointees face parliamentary confirmation and the removal of presidential appointment of judges. Members of Parliament receiving Cabinet positions will also have to relinquish their legislative seats. The changes are intended to address issues that led to violence following the 2007 presidential elections [JURIST news archive] where tens of thousands of protesters took to Kenya's streets accusing Kibaki of election fraud after early opinion polls suggested rival Odinga was in the lead.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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