Through his lawyer Paul Mwangi, Prime Minister Raila Odinga has responded to the publication of ‘Peeling back the mask’ by Miguna Miguna his erstwhile aide: the PM ‘will not seek court redress over libellous claims… for the sake of freedom of expression’. His decision is apparently, ‘a constitutional position’. Hmmm, really…?
BEARING THE ‘HURT OF DEFAMATION’
“The Prime Minister, as a champion of the rights in our Constitution, has accepted to bear the hurt of defamation, rather than take any action that may discourage the advancement and expansion of the field of these rights”, reads Mr Mwangi’s statement published in The Daily Nation today.
Later Mawangi states: “it is in consideration of the need to foster the nascent civil liberties we promulgated two years ago that the Prime Minister has decided that he shall not pursue and legal proceeding against the author of the recently launched publication against him”.
“The Prime Minister feels strongly”, says the statement, “that we must open a new chapter in the freedom of expression and of the Press. Without free exchange of ideas, this country will not move to become a first world country”.
“UGLY THORNS” AND THE “BEAUTIFUL ROSES OF FREEDOM”
And there’s quite a flourish near the end of the statement: “The Prime Minister views the recently launched publication as “the ugly thorns that grow on the bushes of the beautiful roses of freedom”.
We can take lawyer Paul Mwangi’s statement at face value and as reflecting the true feelings and genuine, heart-felt sentiments, of Prime Minister Odinga. Or we can be somewhat cynical. The Kenya Forum is cynical.
THE THREAT OF “DISCOVERY”?
Not once in the full-page statement is the name Miguna Miguna mentioned, nor the title of the book ‘Peeling back the mask’. Not one allegation in the book is addressed. Nor, quite understandably, is the slight matter of ‘discovery’ mentioned.
‘Discovery’ is what Miguna Miguna’s lawyer would go for if Raila Odinga, or anyone else, were to sue him for libel over the allegations made in ‘Peeling back the mask’.
Miguna’s defense to a charge of libel would be that what he has written is true. To prove that assertion his lawyers would be able to call for documents and information to be released – minutes of meetings, who attended, accounts, who paid for what, and much else besides. The prosecution may be able to halt some of the flow of information on the grounds of national security, or parliamentary privilege, but by no means all of it.
Likewise, Miguna Miguna would be able to subpoena individuals to attend court to answer questions. “Were you at such and such a meeting?” his lawyer could ask, “what was discussed?” and, “do you deny having said such and such?”
With an election coming up neither Prime Minister Odinga nor those around him will want that to happen. The “beautiful roses of freedom” have little to do with it we fear.