Kenya's independent electoral body condemns arrest of polling contractors at airport

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The Electoral Commission of Kenya condemned Thursday night the arrest at Nairobi airport of three employees of a British company in charge of electronic voting in the August 9 presidential election.

"The brazen decision of the security authorities to arrest, detain and confine in a solitary hideout the three personnel without justification, is an exhibition of intimidation on handworking persons who are only keen to deliver a robust technology infrastucture for conduct of a credible, secure and verifiable elction", the statement read.

The three employees of Smartmatic International, a London-based company, were hired legally from Venezuela to deploy and manage the electronic voting system "which will play a central role" on August 9, the Commission said.

Kenyan police have confirmed that a foreigner was arrested at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport with election-related stickers in his luggage. He has since been released, police said.

"His arrest and the subsequent search were necessary because of the sensitivity of the election material," a spokesman for the Kenyan police Bruno Shioso argued. According to him, the material had not been declared and was not under the supervision of a member of the Electoral Commission as required by law.

Voting and electronic ballot counting is a very sensitive issue in Kenya, where 22.1 million voters are expected to cast ballots on August 9. The country has experienced several election periods marked by deadly violence, especially ethnic violence.

Accusations of hacking sparked riots and looting in 2017 and the Supreme Court ordered a re-run after "irregularities" in the transmission of results.

As an observer, the European Union noted that electronic voting, which was supposed to increase transparency, had instead fuelled suspicions of fraud in the opposition and recommended that the system be improved in 2022, admitting that "technology is no substitute for trust."

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