Reporters Without Borders today condemned a decision by finance minister Amos Kimunya to deny The Standard daily newspaper and Kenya Television Network (KTN) access to his ministry in reprisal for their coverage of an interview he gave on 5 March.
Kimunya’s comment that President Kibaki was in charge of the country and knew everything that went on there was interpreted by these two media as meaning Kibaki knew about a raid carried out against The Standard on 2 March.
Claiming his statement was taken out of context, Kimunya insisted that he did not mean the president had prior knowledge of the raid. This insinuation was clearly intended to cause damage to the president and his government and to attract sympathy for this press group, Kimunya said.
03.03.2006 Standard journalists charged and released on bail
Two editors and a journalist on The Standard were charged on 2 March with “publishing false rumours with the intention of panicking the public”.
Managing editor Chaacha Mwita, who is responsible for the weekend pages, editor Dennis Onyango, and journalist Ayub Savula, were then released on bail of 50,000 shillings (580 euros).
They were charged in connection with an article which reported that President Mwai Kibaki had held a secret meeting with former environment minister, Kalonzo Musyoka.
Their trial has been set for 24 April. They face a possible three years in prison.
02.03.2006 Government orders police raid on HQ of KTN and The Standard
Reporters Without Borders said it was disgusted by a show of force by armed Kenyan police who raided the HQ of The Standard press group on 2 March. This followed the arrest of three of the daily’s journalists two days earlier.
Police, brandishing AK-47 assault weapons made simultaneous raids at 1am on the HQ of KTN television and the offices of the Standard printers in the capital Nairobi’s industrial area.
They created panic at the TV station where they assaulted the guards and caused serious damage, putting it off the air until the afternoon of the following day.
They seized control of the video production unit where they ordered staff to lie on the floor. They snatched transmission equipment and a number of computers and arrested four staff, who were quickly released.
At the same time police seized copies of the 2 March edition of the Standard newspaper from the printers and set fire to them.
“This police operation is completely unacceptable”, said Reporters Without Borders. “These methods are unworthy of a democracy. The journalists who have been detained should immediately be released and the authorities should explain themselves over this attack”.
“If the government has a quarrel with the media that’s one thing, but nothing can justify this brutal police raid,” the press freedom organisation said.
Internal Security Minister, John Michuki, acknowledged that he had ordered the police operation.
01.03.2006 Three journalists on Standard arrested amidst worries about growing government belligerence
Reporters Without Borders has sent a strong protest to the Kenyan authorities after three journalists from the daily The Standard were arrested on 28 February accused of “fabricating” news about President Mwai Kibaki.
"The volatility of political life in Kenya, since the defeat of the presidential camp in the constitutional referendum is leading to more and more damaging consequences for the press,” said the press freedom organisation.
Managing editor Chaacha Mwita, editor Dennis Onyango and journalist Ayub Savula, are being held at a police station in Kileleshwa, Nairobi.
They were arrested after presenting themselves at the capital’s central police station after receiving summonses the previous evening from the head of criminal investigations, Dunson Ndiru. Police spent a large part of the day watching The Standard’s offices.
The three arrests came after an article appeared in the weekend edition on 25 February, referring to a meeting two days earlier between President Kibaki and former environment minister, Kalonzo Musyoka, to discuss a possible political alliance.
Musyoka left the government in November last year and campaigned, with the opposition, against the constitutional project proposed by the head of state. The press offices of the president and of Musyoka denied that such a meeting took place. These denials were carried by The Standard, which also reported its suspicions of a political plot on the part of the coalition to which Musyoka belongs, intended to discredit him.
Despite this, government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, accused the newspaper of lack of probity and having knowingly published false news. He sent The Standard a letter asking it to retract and to publish an apology for having impugned the president’s integrity.
“We are disturbed by the growing belligerence of the government,” the press freedom organisation said. “We call for the release of the detained journalists and for an end to methods that are unworthy of a great democracy. It is high time that the Nairobi authorities understand that imprisoning a journalist solves nothing and does not put right any wrong.”