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Kenya26 March 2002

Paper ordered to pay huge libel damages

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) protested today to the Kenyan government at huge libel damages awarded against The People Daily newspaper and called for them to be cancelled, saying this and other such awards were "seriously threatening" investigative journalism in Kenya. "Without getting into the rights and wrongs of the case, we are worried these damages may force the paper to close," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to attorney-general Amos Wako. "For the past two years, Kenyan courts have awarded completely disproportionate libel damages of tens of millions of shillings."

According to the information gathered by RSF, The People Daily and its former editor-in-chief, George Mbugguss, were sentenced on appeal on 22 March to pay 20 million shillings (€300,000) to trade and industry ministry Nicholas Biwott and the paper was forbidden to publish further "libellous" material about him. An article on 10 March 1999 implicated Biwott, then minister for the East African Community, in the allegedly corrupt award of a contract in the building of the Turwell Gorge hydro-electric dam to a French firm.

RSF notes that the Daily Nation and Taifa Leo newspapers were ordered last 7 September to pay 10 million shillings (€150,000) to Judge Patrick Machira, who had complained of "malicious libel" in articles and photos published about a quarrel he had had five years earlier. Last November, two other papers were ordered to pay 10 and 20 million shillings in libel damages to two legal consultancies.



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