A few weeks ago on this page, Bill Kovach wrote of the detention of Gitobu Imanyara, a courageous and able young lawyer who edits The Nairobi Law Monthly {"An Arrest in Kenya," July 18}. Imanyara was released a week later but rearrested on the same day and charged with sedition. He is at present free on bail, but he faces the possibility of years in prison.

Imanyara's offense? In the April/May issue of the Monthly, he ran an article called "The Historic Debate: Law, Democracy and Multi-Party Politics in Kenya." For that, he may spend six years in prison -- the standard sentence for sedition in Kenya, regardless of the strength of the defense.

Kenya does not have jury trials; the magistrate in charge is a judge of both the facts and the law. Although the trial takes place in open court, the allegedly seditious passage in a document is never made public. It is seen only by the magistrate and the lawyers. From my experience defending clients accused of sedition, I am virtually certain that Gitobu Imanyara will be convicted.

Since it first appeared in 1987, The Nairobi Law Monthly has earned a reputation both within and outside Kenya for objectivity, depth, thoroughness and feeling in its coverage of human rights and the constitution.

The Kenyan constitution guarantees freedom of expression and association, and it further ensures that no one shall be discriminated against because of his political opinions. Kenyan citizens are promised the full protection of the law and an independent judiciary. Arbitrary searches and arrests are not permitted.

The government of President Daniel arap Moi has systematically attempted to undermine the constitution since 1982, when KANU, the ruling party, introduced amendments that would replace a multi-party system with a one-party state. On June 16 President Moi, who has ruled Kenya since 1978, declared that the debate on political pluralism had come to an end and that advocates of such a system would be "hunted like rats." He instructed the police to start the hunt, and Gitobu Imanyara was one of the first to be taken.

The one-party state forced The Nairobi law journal to become the conscience of the Kenyan nation. The judicial system has been corrupted by the Moi government. Civil servants and judges serve at the pleasure of the president. Any minister who makes a principled statement may well find himself out of the Cabinet, out of the only political party and out of Parliament. Journalists, lawyers, church leaders and other citizens have been harassed or detained for advocating changes in the system.

In "The Historic Debate" editor Imanyara presents the various arguments for and against the political pluralism that threatens the Moi government's long control. Vice President George Saitoti's views are reprinted from another magazine. A second pro-government position is presented by Mark Too, KANU chairman of the Nandi District. In his introduction, Imanyara writes: "This is essentially a souvenir issue. It contains the arguments for and against the multi-party system of government. We have left out the insults and condemnations that have characterized the main argument of the proponents of the single-party form of government. We trust that you will have an enjoyable read."

The United States and other Western nations have vigorously supported the end to one-party rule in Eastern Europe. The reluctance to support the same goal in Africa reflects a combination of Western paternalism -- "Africans are not ready for democracy" -- and of Western guilt -- "Africans were victimized by colonial rule, so how can we tell them how to run their government now that they are independent?" It is a combination that does a disservice to the vast majority of Africans who suffer under the entrenched rule of the corrupt and brutal elite. Gitobu Imanyara, who has studied Western ideas of political pluralism, is as deserving of support as were the activists of Solidarity in Poland and of Charter 77 in Czechoslovakia when they were imprisoned for publishing similar views.

The writer is a Kenyan human rights lawyer now living in exile in the United States.