MOMBASA (Reuters) – A Kenyan lawmaker and prominent Muslim preacher appeared in court on Thursday accused of inciting violence, days after he said he would be willing to fund a group campaigning for independence for the country’s coastal region.
Sheikh Mohammed Dor was charged with “incitement to violence” and uttering words that “indicated or implied that it was or might be desirable to disobey the lawful authority of the government of Kenya”.
Police arrested the leader of the Mombasa Republican Council Omar Mwamnuadzi on Monday, as part of a drive to eliminate the separatist group from the tourist hotspot and trade hub.
Dor, member of parliament for the Orange Democratic Movement party, was arrested in the capital Nairobi on Wednesday and flown to the coastal city of Mombasa by police. He was shown on local television news last week saying he would be willing to fund the MRC.
He denied the charges against him and was freed on bail of 2 million shillings ($23,500). A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 13.
His lawyer Hamza Adam said it was clear from the charges, which were read in a court crowded with Dor’s supporters, that his client was not guilty.
“He was merely exercising his constitutional freedom of speech, but we will argue that in court when that time comes,” Adam told Reuters.
A senior Muslim cleric who attended the court accused the police of violating Dor’s rights at the time of arrest.
“They did not give him the opportunity to even call his lawyer or family,” said Sheikh Khalifa Mohammed.
The MRC’s agitation for secession has added to tensions ahead of a presidential and parliamentary election due in March, the first since a disputed 2007 poll that sparked inter-ethnic violence nationwide in which more than 1,200 people were killed and thousands more displaced.
Some 38 members of the group have been arrested and charged in the past two weeks, including its chairman Mwamnuadzi, spokesman Rashid Mraja and secretary Randu Nzai Ruwa.
Apart from the crackdown on the MRC, police have also carried out raids in the coastal region against suspected members of the Somali Islamist al Shabaab group. Three suspects were killed in a raid on Wednesday in which a police officer also died. (Editing by Duncan Miriri).