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Kenyan Rights Groups Work to Secure Activists' Release - 2001-10-26

In Kenya, a human rights group that campaigns for the release of political prisoners is trying to win the release of dozens of activists who were arrested last weekend.

The secretary-general of the group, called Release Political Prisoners, says 71 group activists were arrested last Saturday.

Amnesty International says police used "excessive force" and threw tear-gas canisters to break up a gathering held on Kenyatta Day, a national holiday honoring Kenya's first president.

Denise Lifton, Amnesty International's researcher for Kenya, says the group was holding an alternative gathering to the official rally, and was celebrating what the group calls "Mau Mau Day" to honor Kenyan freedom fighters.

Police and a lawyer for the group said those detained were charged with holding an illegal public meeting.

But Cyprian Onyamwamu, secretary-general of RPP, who was among those arrested, says it was a private gathering, and therefore did not require notifying the police. "When you have a public meeting you only notify the police," he said. "In our situation, we were having a private gathering within our office, which was a private function, which, therefore, means that the police were acting illegally on Saturday when they came to violently break up the meeting. So, we think we have grounds to go to court and sue for unlawful arrest and illegal confinement."

The group raised $25,000 in bail to secure the activists' release.