Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about governmental hostility towards the privately-owned media after Chris Ojow, a photographer with the daily The Nation, was roughed up by President Mwai Kibaki’s bodyguards when he tried to take pictures of the president during a Sunday service in church on 7 January.
“Every year there are cases of violence against the press in which the government is involved,” the press freedom organisation said. “The attack on The Nation’s photographer is the latest episode in a series of threats and physical attacks on journalists working for privately-owned media that appears to be the expression of a deep-seated and absurd hostility.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “As the guarantor of national harmony, President Kibaki should realise that it is time for a change in this climate and that peace is only possible if he takes the initiative.”
When Ojow entered the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi and went straight to the front rows where Kibaki and other officials were seated, bodyguards told him he could not take photos of the president. Ojow replied that the president had already been photographed many times while attending mass.
The situation deteriorated when Ojow tried to photograph Kibaki as he knelt to receive communion. One of the bodyguards grabbed him, tried to take his camera, bundled him out of the church by a side door and then roughed him up, with the help of another man. Ojow immediately filed a complaint at a nearby police station.
The officiating priest, Father Samuel Mukua, tried to calm things down and apologised to Ojow, but Bishop Maurice Crowley said Ojow should have asked himself if it was appropriate to take pictures of the president while he was praying.