As Bill Kovach reported {"An Arrest in Kenya," op-ed, July 18}, the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships had invited Gitobu Imanyara, editor of the Nairobi Law Monthly, to be one of the dozen foreign journalists it placed in U.S. newsrooms this year for five months of working exposure to the traditions and techniques of a free press. Gitobu wanted to learn, but he did not feel that he could leave his own embattled journal or the campaign for democratic institutions in Kenya.

Even in view of his release from prison two days ago, his arrest remains a sign of how imperiled those institutions are and how much they need defenders as patriotic, brave and eloquent as he. On a smaller scale, it is also a blow to our program. Over seven years we have been fortunate to have three able fellows from Kenya, more than from any other African nation except South Africa.

We try to take fellows from countries where press freedom is either newly in being or realistically in prospect. If Gitobu is not allowed to continue his exemplary work as a journalist, however, the fellowship program will find it hard to regard Kenya as meeting our criteria.

JEAN FRIENDLY Chairman, Alfred Friendly Press Fellowships Washington