Kenya MPs charged with hate speech over constitution

Image caption, Some fear the referendum campaign could lead to renewed violence

Three Kenyan MPs have been charged with inciting hatred during campaigns ahead of a referendum on a new constitution.

The MPs - including Assistant Roads Minister Wilfred Machage - denied the charges in court.

They are accused of saying some of Kenya's ethnic groups would have to relocate if the constitution was approved.

Six people died on Sunday in a stampede after grenades exploded at a campaign rally for the "No" campaign.

The three arrested MPs were interrogated for several hours at the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters on Tuesday.

During their campaign against the draft constitution, they were widely quoted as saying that some communities in the volatile Rift Valley could be evicted if it is passed in a referendum on 4 August.

Higher Education Minister William Ruto, among another three MPs also accused of hate speech earlier this week but not charged, has appeared before the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC).

Mr Ruto is alleged to have asked Muslims to reject the proposed constitution if they do not want a war with Christians.

The NCIC was set up after post-election violence in 2007 and 2008 left some 1,300 people dead and 300,000 homeless.

Some fear that the referendum campaign could lead to renewed violence.

The commission has written to President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, asking for the suspension of all campaigning.

Power share

NCIC chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia said he wanted the politicians to be prosecuted quickly after the experience of 2008.

Much of the post-election violence in 2008 was over land disputes between rival ethnic groups and the proposed constitution would set up a land commission to manage public and community land, which is opposed by some.

The violence ended when election rivals Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga agreed to share power - and write a new constitution.

The coalition remains shaky but supporters of both men generally support the draft constitution.

The document provides for greater checks on presidential powers and more regional devolution.

It also recognises the UN human rights charter and creates a second parliamentary chamber - the senate.

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