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Kenya 16 August 2006

Charges dropped against two Kenya Times journalists

Prosecutor Mureithi Mate told a court yesterday that the attorney general has instructed him to “have the case withdrawn” against opposition daily Kenya Times editor Onyango Omollo and one of his reporters, David Ochami, who had been the target of criminal proceedings over an article last year that was considered alarmist.

Mate gave no reason for the decision, nor any assurance that the case would not be revived at a later date.

The offending article, published on 25 September 2005, referred to the possibility of a coup resulting from President Mwai Kibaki’s decision to hold a referendum on a controversial plan to amend the constitution. The proposed new constitution ended up being rejected in the referendum, held on 21 November.

29.09.2005 - Journalist arrested, to be prosecuted for “incitement”

Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of David Ochami of the Kenya Times opposition daily and voiced astonishment at the egregious methods used by the Kenyan authorities to arrest him on a charge of “incitement” for writing a column criticising the president.

“The authorities have clearly not learned any lessons from their conflicts with the press this year”, the organisation said. “On the one hand, they continue to send police to arrest a journalist as if he were a gangster. On the other, they turn a deaf ear to calls from the media and international press freedom groups for an overhaul of Kenya’s press legislation to bring it into line with the democratic standards advocated by the UN. This obstinacy is incomprehensible.”

Posing as a landless peasant, a police officer from the Special Crime Prevention Unit went to the offices of the Kenya Times on 27 September, asked to speak to Ochami and managed to persuade him to step outside where he was arrested by 12 armed policeman. After searching him, they drove him to his home, which they searched for two hours and confiscated several notebooks.

Ochami was thereafter interrogated for an hour by the deputy chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, and then by Serious Crimes Unit chief Lilian Kiamba, who indicated he would be prosecuted but gave no date for a trial. Kenya Times editor Chris Odwesso said he is currently being held at a police station in the Nairobi suburb of Kiambu.

The Kenya Times is published by the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the former ruling party which is now in opposition.

Ochami faces up to five years in prison for alleged “incitement” in a 25 September column headlined “Coups in Africa do not occur out of nothing,” in which he said, “there is no guarantee that a coup or an ouster of a president involves bloodshed or is inherently bad for the country.”

Kenya’s political class has become very polarised by a proposed new constitution which the government wants approved in a referendum on 21 November.

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