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Kenya23 February 2006

Arrest warrants issued against four journalists on the Weekly Citizen

Arrest warrants were issued against four journalists on the tabloid Weekly Citizen by a judge, Aggrey Muchelule on 22 February, two days after police raided its offices and arrested staff at the paper and its street vendors.

On the orders of Prosecutor Stephen Chacha, the court charged managing editor, Tom Alwaka, and journalists David Matende, Charles Mwangi and John Wafula, in their absence for publishing “alarmist reports”.

The offending article, which was carried in the paper’s 20 February edition, criticised President Mwai Kibaki, suggesting that he was unable to govern the country.

The journalists were also charged with failing to submit copies of the newspaper to the Registrar of books and newspapers, having no licence and publishing the newspaper without putting up the required one million-shilling (11,600 euros) bond.

Seven Weekly Citizen street sellers were also charged. Nearly 100 of them were arrested on 20 February as they distributed copies of the paper. Identified vendors Paul Kamau, Georges Kibandi, Nicholas Katua, Frederick Otieno, Bernard Odero are accused of using premises at Junior Graphics printers on Cross Lane, Nairobi, without being accredited by Nairobi City Council.

They were released after paying 50,000 shillings (580 euros) or after agreeing to bail of 100,000 shillings (1,160 euros). The printer Paul Kimani was also charged on 22 February and freed on the same basis.

Staff at the weekly: journalist Johnstone Mativo, graphic designer, Ken Teyie, receptionist, Catherine Oyando, and distribution assistant Austin Alwaka, who were arrested in the police raid on the newspaper’s offices on 20 February, were all released without charge the following day.

21.02.2006 - Police raid privately-owned weekly newspaper

Reporters Without Borders sent a strong protest to the Kenyan authorities after police raided the premises of the privately-owned The Weekly Citizen on 20 February after it carried an article about power struggles within the presidency.

The organisation also expressed its dismay at a prison sentence, with the option of a fine - that was upheld on appeal against a journalist on The People Daily, a privately-owned newspaper in northern Kenya, for an article that appeared in 1999.

”It is a desperate litany of ills: A massive police raid, indiscriminate arrests, an absurd sentence and journalists forced into hiding,” said Reporters Without Borders. “These two cases show the twin evils of draconian legislation and a government which has no hesitation in using it.”

“If President Mwai Kibaki wishes to issue a denial or seek a correction in a newspaper, there are democratic ways to set about it. And if they do not exist in Kenya, it is up to him to work with the independent press to create them,” the organisation concluded.

A police unit, led by Nairobi operations chief, Julius Ndegwa, and the deputy head of the provincial CID, Isaiah Osugo, led a major search for editorial executives at the Moi Avenue headquarters of the tabloid The Weekly Citizen and several printers in Kirinyaga Road.

Those arrested in the raid were: journalist Johnstone Mativo, graphic designer Ken Teyie, receptionist Catherine Oyando, printer Paul Kimani, and distribution assistant Austin Alwaka, It is not known what charges have been made against them. Several witnesses said that an unknown number of street sellers were also arrested. The Weekly Citizen’s managing editor, Tom Alwaka, who has been in hiding for two days, said a computer had apparently been seized.

The weekly, which is known for its stories about sex cases, has carried several front page articles criticising Mwai Kibaki’s presidency. These said that the president, who was unable to govern the country, had delegated his powers to his special advisor, Stanley Murage, and that a power struggle was under way between a woman presented as his second wife, Mary Wambui, and “the first lady”, Lucy Kibaki.

In an unrelated case, Johann Wandetto, journalist on The People Daily, was sentenced on appeal on 16 February 2006 to six months in prison or a 50,000-shilling fine (about 600 euros) for “publication of alarmist information”. On 6 March 1999, the paper carried an article under his by-line, headlined, “Militiamen rob elite guards... shock as Moi men surrender meekly”. It told how the body guards of then president Daniel arap Moi had fallen into an ambush, set by Pokot militiamen to steal their weapons, near the western town of Kapenguria.

Four judges successively heard the case without reaching a decision so that six years elapsed before the appeal court judgement. In his ruling, the judge, Wanjiru Karanja, said, “The issue is not whether the article caused alarm or fear among the people, what is important is that it had the capacity to do so.”

Wandetto, who paid the fine the day after the appeal verdict, had been sentenced at the original hearing on 16 February 2000 to 18 months in prison and had spent one week in custody.

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