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Isn't it time for Kenya to turn over a new page on impunity?

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 11 November 2011
Cite as Article 19, Isn't it time for Kenya to turn over a new page on impunity?, 11 November 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ec4e3502.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Since independence, total press freedom has remained a pipe dream. But not to seem a pessimist, there has been relative press freedom in Kenya. So why do I use the qualifier relative?

I use the qualifier at least for three reasons. First, there were no reported killings of journalists in Kenya up to the turn of the 21st century compared to our neighbours. However, the picture is not the same anymore. In the past 11 years we have had three journalists killed. While the motive behind the killing of two of them remains unclear (Trent Keegan, a freelance journalists killed in Nairobi on 28 May 2008 and Samuel Nduati, a journalist with Citizen Radio killed on 27 Oct 2000), the death of Francis Nyaruri, a Weekly Citizen newspaper, journalist who was found decapitated and his hand bound in a forest in January 2009 was the most chilling. Nyaruri wrote under the pen name Mong'are Mokua and is believed to have been killed by a corruption cartel he had exposed in his writings. What remains similar about the three cases is that even after we passed a progressive Constitution of Kenya in 2010 which guarantees press freedom and had the Director of Public Prosecutions sworn in some 142 days ago, there is no indication that this cases will be fully investigated and those culpable brought to justice.

Second, Kenya is replete of cases of open violence, torture and intimidation against journalists. A few cases may exemplify this. Twenty years ago, on the 5th October 1991, Mr Wallace Gichere, a photojournalist suffered severe injuries after he was thrown down from the 4th floor of his flat by police officers. The officers had allegedly gone to arrest him for some unknown criminal offence. After a decade of pressure from human rights organisations, the government accepted liability and sought to compensate him through out of court settlement. Similarly, on 15th February 1999, David Makali, the then editor of eXpression Today was abducted from a Nairobi hotel and taken to Karura Forest where he was tortured and beaten by unidentified armed men. The abductors wanted him to reveal the writer of an anonymous article he had published on drug trafficking in Kenya. The article allegedly linked then an Assistant Minister Fred Gumo [currently Minister of Regional development Authorities and a member of parliament for Westland] to the illicit drug trade. Five days after the attack, Gumo during a public speech announced that journalists of Luhya ethnicity who incessantly criticised politicians "would be dealt with accordingly." Makali is a Luhya. But some people may argue that such cases were only witnessed during the repressive years of President Daniel arap Moi and that since 2003, Kenya is haven for press freedom.

Far from it. On the eve of the World Press Freedom Day in 2005, the first lady, Lucy Kibaki, stormed the Nation Media Centre newsroom and held journalists and editors hostage for an estimated five hours, allegedly to protest against "bad publicity" the fist family was receiving. She also slapped a KTN TV cameraman who was filming the protest and destroyed his camera under the full watch of state security agents. When the cameraman, Derrick Otieno, went to court, attorney-general Amos Wako moved to terminate the case against the first lady. Fearing for his life, the cameraman fled to South Africa.

In a never witnessed draconian assault on the media in Kenya, about 30 heavily armed and hooded police believed to be from the elite Kanga squad, ostensibly formed a year earlier to fight armed and dangerous criminals, on 2ndMarch 2006, raided the Standard Group's offices at about 1.00am (East African Time), beat up employees, broke doors, and forcefully took employees' cellphones, yanking off CCTV cameras and carted away 20 computers. They later disabled KTN TV, keeping the channel off air for about 13 hours. The commando squad then proceeded to the Standard printing press, shot the gates open, disabled the plant and set on fire thousands of copies of the day's edition that were just rolling off the press. The Standard is the oldest newspaper in the country, while its sister company, Kenya Television Network, is the premier private television channel.

To add insult to injury, the gang that raided the printing press comprised Caucasian men who hurled racist remarks at the employees found on duty. "I'm gonna smoke you. I'll waste you niggers. Where are your mobile phones? We don't have a problem with you. We have a problem with the administration," screamed the gang leader. The foreigners were later identified as the two Armenian brothers, Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargsyan, who were enjoying state protection under the guise of being investors.

 "If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it," Michuki repeatedly shouted at journalists, who challenged him on the legality of the raid as he arrogantly justified the raid claiming the Standard Group was planning to publish articles that could instigate ethnic animosity. 

Third, while all the above cases are clear, attempts to investigate them and bring to justice those deemed culpable for the violations have been lacklustre at best. Despite the President allegedly moved by public interest appointing a commission of inquiry into the various wrongful, criminal or otherwise unlawful acts and omissions and receiving a report on the same in 2006, the report has not been made public nor those believed to have been part of the raid held accountable.

As the new team of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Chief justice and Attorney General settle in their office backed by a progressive Constitution of Kenya, there is dire need that the above cases and many others not mentioned above are fully investigated and the press freedom violators brought to book as this will help Kenya turn a page from years of impunity.

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