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Kenya23 January 2004

Reporters Without Borders denounces crackdown on alternative press

Reporters Without Borders accused the Kenyan government of trying "to choke off" the "alternative" press by imposing exorbitant publishing fees.

Since 10 January numerous independent newspapers have been systematically seized and news-vendors have been arrested because of non-payment of the fees.

The "alternative" press is made up of a number of independent small-circulation publications such as Kenya Confidential, Wembe, The Summit, New Post Newspaper, Citizen weekly, Family, The Independent, Dispatch, Mirror

Police seized more than 15,000 copies of newspapers, considered to be illegal, from 10 to 12 January. More than 20 newspaper vendors were arrested and then sentenced to fines of 20,000 shillings (204 euros).

Since they have limited financial means, most of the newspapers have been unable to pay the increased fees since 2002. As a result most of them have continued to appear without paying the fees, which are a form of libel insurance bond.

The international press freedom organisation said it was concerned by these threats to pluralism of news and information and urged the authorities to take the necessary steps to allow the newspapers to appear again freely.

"The government is going to choke off the ’alternative’ press by forcing them to pay exorbitant publication fees, that were hiked from 10 000 shillings (102 euros) to one million shillings (10,200 euros) in 2002.

"It is obvious that the 2002 reform of the press law was intended to gradually gag smaller publications with limited resources," it said. "The new government vaunts its commitment far and wide to democracy and freedom of expression. We have therefore asked the information minister, Raphael Tuju, to lift the bans which have been slapped on some media and to review its press law," it added. The blow to the publications has meant they are gradually disappearing from the news stands.

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