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Kenyan journalist covering police detained, harassed

This article was originally published on 4 November 2014 on cpj.org

The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Kenyan police to stop harassing and threatening a journalist in Kisumu city, western Kenya. Last month, police threatened and briefly detained Justus Ochieng, a reporter for the privately owned daily The Star, in connection with a story he wrote that alleged criminal activity by police officers in the region, the journalist told CPJ.

Ochieng told CPJ that in Kisumu on October 2, three police officers with Kenya's Criminal Investigations Department threatened him with "dire consequences for exposing their colleagues." The Star reporter said he filed police reports with the Kisumu Central Police Station and the National Police Service Commission, requesting an investigation into the threats. He said that when he returned to the police station on October 29 to follow up on the police reports, he was arrested and held for eight hours. One of the arresting officers was from the same group that had threatened him earlier that month, he said.

Police said Ochieng was arrested after being accused of libeling James Oswago, the former chief executive of the electoral commission, in a story in June, according to local journalists and news reports. Ochieng had written about a woman who alleged she had been swindled out of money by Oswago. In subsequent news reports, Oswago denied that he had swindled the woman.

News reports citing police said that Ochieng had been arrested on the orders of the director of public prosecutions but also cited unnamed sources at the prosecution office saying the director had no knowledge of the order.

Ochieng told CPJ that he is scheduled to appear in court on November 10, where he will be officially charged with libel.

The police harassment follows a series of stories Ochieng wrote in September and October that alleged a police officer at Kisumu Central Police Station had robbed members of the public, including another police officer. Police are investigating the allegations, Kisumu County Criminal Investigations Department Commander Moses Dindi told CPJ.

"Instead of arresting criminals, Kenyan police arrest those who report on criminal activity," said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. "We call on authorities to enforce the rule of law in Western Kenya, which includes allowing journalists such as Justus Ochieng to do their work without being harassed, threatened, or arrested."

Kenyan police have a history of intimidating the press. In May, Star journalist Lynda Ngoolo received phone threats from who she alleged were police in Mwingi Town, central Kenya, and went into hiding for three months, Ngoolo told CPJ. The threats occurred after she wrote a story in April that urged police to investigate claims that terrorists were using a home within the town as a safe house.

CPJ continues to call on Kenyan authorities to investigate the 2009 killing of Weekly Citizen journalist Francis Nyayuri. Local journalists told CPJ they had been told that Nyaruri was killed on orders of high-ranking officers. The murder remains unsolved.

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