Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blogger Facing Trial for Criticizing King.

About two weeks ago a blogger in Morocco posted an article in an online magazine, hespress.com, in which he criticized the King for encouraging a culture of dependency where loyalty is rewarded with favors. In the article (in Arabic), titled ‘The King Indulges His Subjects’ Dependency’, Mohamed Erraji, 29, said that “this had made Moroccans a people without dignity, who live by donations and gifts… We need to admit that what has destroyed our country and made it plummet to this embarrassing level in all international rankings, is this economy of dispersing gratuities, which benefits the lucky sons and daughters of this country and overlooks the rest.”

That was on Wednesday, September 3. The following day he was arrested, interrogated for seven hours then released. He was re-arrested on Friday and detained before being brought to trial on Monday, September 8. In a closed trial that lasted 10 minutes, in which he did not have a defense lawyer, Erraji was sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of 5000 Dirhams ($625) for “failure of respect due to the King”.

Morocco’s press law strictly forbids criticizing or defaming the King. The press law, which has often been criticized for being overly repressive also includes in its prohibition the offending of Islam, the Royal Family, State Institutions and the Territorial Integrity of Morocco. A fairly nebulous set of laws, if you ask me, that suitably arms a security apparatus which wants to zealously protect the arm that feeds it.

But blinded by their enthusiastic ingratiation to His Majesty, the loyal agents had perhaps underestimated the ability of the blogosphere to effectively spread information. Within moments of Erraji’s incarceration, global media had kicked up a racket through diverse channels in his defense. Much to the chagrin of the Moroccan authorities, the country’s draconian press law was once again in the limelight. Obviously this not being an objective of their bungled smack down on Erraj, someone advised the Appeals Court to release him on bail because in the earlier decision the prosecution “did not comply with certain provisions with regards to the press code”.

Erraji is scheduled to appear in court again today, September 16.

I join the world wide support for Erraji’s blogging freedom and hope that the tribulations with His Majesty’s court jesters will be short-lived.

A petition site for the freeing of Erraji has also been set up.

Notable organizations that have continued to highlight these infringements of journalists and bloggers freedoms include Reporters without Borders, the Union of Independent Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Committee to Protect Bloggers. The latter in particular is a non-profit corporation “…devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government. We support the right of bloggers, regardless of professional status or engagement in activism, to speak and we do so regardless of their ethnicity, national origin, religion or political beliefs.”

They are encouraging us to give them a shout when we, someone we know, or someone we’ve heard about, has fallen afoul of government authority because of their insistence on speaking their minds on a blog. A visit to their site is quite revealing on just how pervasive these attacks on bloggers by authorities have been in recent times.

Facebook users can join the CPB through the cause page.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ida begrudgingly Rejects Allowance

What ought to have been a matter of outright rejection at the first instance, stretched out to be a fortnight of apparent soul-searching process for Ida Odinga. She seems to have come to terms, albeit grudgingly, that the Ksh 400,000 allowance is at the moment an unwise political misstep that has elicited a fast and furious backlash from folks that would otherwise form her bedrock of support.

To pretend that she had only read of the offer in the press and therefore treated it as malicious rumor from her detractors is disingenuous crap pasted from an old script. Since keeping silent would have implied her complicity in the attempted skimming of public funds, it was perhaps necessary that she made her position clear. But her statement came out as a bitter retort to “people” when in fact a simple line or two rejecting the offer would have sufficed. Her rigmarole about “heavy responsibility on behalf of the Republic of Kenya” is menacing and it is probably just as well that she is not occupying a higher office on behalf of “people”.

The outrageous allowance offer did, however, find support from what seemed unlikely quarters. Former nominated MP Njoki Ndungu, who has over the years built a reputation as a brave defender for women and children rights came out with some fairly strange support for the allowances. Ms Ndungu thinks that the monies should be paid “in recognition for the evident work that spouses do in our political structures”. She adds that “We expect them to occasionally hold court, to preside over functions, to grace important State occasions, to be patrons of organizations, etc. We are essentially asking them to give up their private lives.” Madam Njoki, are we?

If such defense as Njoki’s came from the ‘ordinary’ citizenry, it might have carried some water and even looked progressive. But from you, Madam Njoki, it brings with it a little tinge of elitism prevalent in the leafy neighborhood you share with Ida and Pauline. It sounds like support for ‘one our own’. Otherwise, I am persuaded that “we” do not demand these vague services for which we are expected to pay for without even a little pretense to consultation. And “we” expect that perhaps spouses should consult before either of them plunges into public service of the political kind. Anyone who finds that politics is “drudgery”, as Njoki puts it, should steer clear of it and no one will begrudge them.

Now, Pauline. I expect that she will produce a back-dated letter to Muthaura showing that she had rejected the offer first!

Related article; Pauline Musyoka and Ida Odinga; Spouses or Escorts