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REGIONS:

"Standard" journalists charged, released on bail; raided television station resumes broadcasting, staff released without charges

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 2 March 2006 CPJ letter to Kenya's president:

March 2, 2006

His Excellency Mwai Kibaki
President of the Republic of Kenya
C/O The Embassy of the Republic of Kenya
2249 R Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Via Facsimile: (202) 462-3829

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by a recent string of attacks on the media in Kenya, where your Excellency promised to strengthen press freedom and democratic institutions. Early this morning, police raided Kenya's oldest newspaper, the Standard, and a television station owned by the Standard Group, temporarily disabling both media outlets. The raids are particularly troubling in light of events over the past two weeks, when police detained three journalists from the Standard's weekend edition, charging them with publishing "alarming" statements, and raided two tabloid newspapers, detaining several journalists and issuing arrest warrants for four more.

Shortly after midnight, heavily armed and masked police officers raided the offices of the Standard, harassing staff, vandalizing equipment, and setting fire to roughly 20,000 copies of today's edition, Standard Group chief executive officer Tom Mshindi told CPJ. A similar group also raided the offices of the Kenya Television Network (KTN), which is owned by the Standard Group and was Kenya's first independent television station. The BBC and Reuters reported that several KTN staffers were detained for several hours before being released without charge. The police also confiscated tapes from KTN as well as up to 40 computer hard drives, many of which belonged to journalists and editors, Mshindi said. This equipment has not been returned.

While Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe initially denied reports that the government ordered the raid, National Security Minister John Michuki told journalists that the raid was carried out to protect state security. "If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it," he said, according to international news reports. Police followed up with a statement justifying the raid on grounds that the newspaper had accepted money to print "a series of fabricated articles aimed at achieving instability."

The police denied setting fire to copies of the Standard. Mshindi called the police statement a fabrication and told CPJ that the newspaper's staff had witnessed the fire. "We saw them. They supervised it," he said. He described the accusations against the newspaper "a completely outrageous claim" and called on authorities to produce evidence of the plot outlined in the statement. "We know they don't have any," he said.

KTN is now back on the air, while the Standard was able to issue a special edition after fixing the paper's printing press, which was damaged in the raid.

Also today, three Standard journalists detained since Tuesday were charged with publishing "alarming" statements and released on bail of 50,000 Kenyan shillings (US$692). Police arrested the journalists after the paper reported on Saturday that a "secret meeting" took place between your Excellency and an estranged former minister from your ruling NARC coalition. (For more information, see CPJ's alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/africa/kenya28feb06na.html.)

On February 20, police raided two tabloid newspapers, confiscating equipment and documents and arresting journalists and other staff. Police also detained news vendors selling the so-called "alternative press" publications, the Weekly Citizen and The Independent. The raids appeared to stem from an article published in the Weekly Citizen alleging that your Excellency was not in full control of the government. Police held three Weekly Citizen reporters and two other employees overnight without charge.

On February 21, at least four other journalists working for the paper, including Managing Editor Tom Alwaka, were charged with publishing an "alarming" story, and warrants were issued for their arrest. Those journalists have gone into hiding. (For more information, see CPJ's alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/africa/kenya21feb06na.html.)

This morning's raid was not the first attack on the Standard since your Excellency came to power in 2002. In 2003, the state brought criminal charges against then-editor David Makali in connection with an investigative article about the alleged murder of a key player in Kenya's constitutional reform process. Makali was acquitted in April 2005. (For more information, see CPJ's alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Kenya05apr05na.html.)

It is outrageous that your Excellency's government, seen as an engine of democratic reform in a continent plagued by dictatorship, is resorting to heavy-handed tactics such as raids on independent media outlets and the continued intimidation of journalists who report on sensitive topics. Journalists in Kenya, including the sophisticated local media as well as the extensive foreign press, must be free to do their jobs without fear of reprisal.

Thank you for your attention to these important matters. We await your reply.

Sincerely,

Ann Cooper
Executive Director

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