Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The continuing trials of anti-piracy advocate Andrew Mwangura

As I reported back in early October, the head of the East African Seafarers Assistance Program, Andrew Mwangura, was arrested by Kenyan authorities in the port city of Mombasa in the wake of the hijacking of the MV Faina. Mwangura had nothing to do with the seizure of the vessel; he is a labour activist who has been one of the most vigorous voices speaking out about the plight of mariners taken hostage by pirates off East Africa. Indeed, Mwangura had been requested by family members of the seafarers aboard the MV Faina to help in securing the safe release of the hostages.

At the time of his arrest, he was charged with "making alarming statements to foreign media touching on the security of the country".

Mwangura today provided me with more details about what transpired over two months ago, saying that he was, "[A]rrested outside the Kenya Television Network studio in Mombasa at around 21h00 local time on 1 October, 2008, and detained for five days at the police cells at Central Police Station and for two nights at the Shimo La Tewa maximum security prison, Mombasa. As per the laws of the Republic of Kenya I can be held for up to 24 hours, but I was detained for a total of 9 days, contrary to the laws of Kenya."

Since his arrest, Mwangura has endured a series of court appearances in Mombasa, none of which have resolved his case in any measurable manner. Last Thursday, December 11, he again appeared before a magistrate for a hearing, only to see it adjourned until February 4 of next year because the prosecution witnesses were absent.

Mwangura's frustrations are evident as he tells me, "I have always received phone calls from Kenyan and Somali officials trying to muzzle me in my efforts to secure the lives and well-being of seafarers taken hostage in Somalia. I strongly believe that my arrest without having done anything unlawful and without any proven charges is an affront by various players, who try to further cover up on the unfolding saga of the Ukrainian arms shipment, which was intercepted by Somali Pirates and whose crew from three nations could face a bitter end in case the still escalating stand-off is not resolved peacefully."

The suppression of piracy off the Horn of Africa - and elsewhere - requires not just the efforts of the United Nations, naval forces, governments and the shipping industry, it also requires individuals with comprehensive local knowledge of the situation and the willingness to speak out when mariners' lives are in peril, people just like Andrew Mwangura. Support him.

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