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3/3/2006

Outrage as Kenya gags media

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 2:23 pm

DOZENS of masked police officers forced a television station off the air in an early morning raid in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, before moving to a newspaper plant, where they disabled the printing press and burned thousands of papers, witnesses said.

The crackdown on the country’s second-largest media company came after the Government jailed three of its journalists over a recent article about political intrigue involving President Mwai Kibaki.

Mr Kibaki, elected in 2002, has experienced a flurry of critical press coverage in recent months as his administration has grappled with accusations of corruption and political infighting.

Thousands of Kenyans rallied outside the downtown headquarters of the newspaper, The Standard, to express outrage that a government that came to office criticising the abuses of the past would take such action. “Go!” they yelled in Swahili, calling on Mr Kibaki to step down.

“We believe this is a direct and blatant attempt to undermine the freedom of the press in this country as guaranteed by the constitution,” said Tom Mshindi, chief executive officer of the Standard Group, which owns the television station and newspaper.

Police spokesman Jaspher Ombati said the police raided the two properties just after midnight as part of a national security investigation that involved “inciting ethnic hate and animosity” as well as “a breach of the peace”.

He accused Standard journalists of receiving a $5000 bribe to print “a series of fabricated articles aimed at achieving instability”, an allegation the newspaper denied.

The three detained journalists were charged with “publishing false rumour with intent to cause alarm to the public”. They pleaded not guilty and were released on bail.

During the raids, the heavily armed police officers, who presented no warrant, smashed doors, broke padlocks and roughed up employees, workers at the scenes said.

The police spokesman denied that officers set newspapers on fire during the raid, although copies of The Standard were still smouldering outside the printing press on Thursday afternoon.

The story that set off the Government’s ire, which ran last Saturday in The Standard, said that Mr Kibaki had met secretly with a major political foe, Kalonzo Musyoka, in an attempt to mend fences.

Both Mr Kibaki and Mr Musyoka, a former minister in the President’s cabinet who has since broken with him, denied that the meeting had taken place.

But Mr Musyoka, a member of Parliament, was one of those condemning the Government for overreacting.

He said that there were legal ways of dealing with falsehoods in the press.

“I am absolutely dismayed to have woken up this morning to one of the saddest mornings we have had as a country,” Mr Musyoka said.

The Kenya Television Network, the country’s oldest independent station, returned to the air about 12 hours after the raid. The Standard made repairs to its press and managed to produce a special edition devoted to the police action.

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