KENYA: Storm erupts over police threat to arrest journalists

lootjpegAn announcement by Kenya’s Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo that two investigative journalists would be arrested for their report about the terrorist attack in Nairobi a month ago has sparked a barrage of condemnation.

Award-winning journalists Mohammed Ali and John-Allan Namu of Kenya Television Network (KTN) compiled a news report that raised many questions Kenyans have been asking about contradictory statements issued by different government officials and security chiefs about the four-day siege at Westgate Shopping Mall. (See report: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QvMWks14Lk)

The questions include the number of terrorists involved, whether any of them were actually killed as stated by the government, whether they held any hostages, and embarrassing disagreements between the army and the police which led to serious failures during the operation.

Relying on CCTV footage, which has also been aired by local and international TV stations, Ali and Namu showed army officers looting the shops in the mall during the siege. Kenya Defence Forces has denied the allegation, which has become a national shame, and instead claimed that the soldiers only drank water from a supermarket inside the mall.

After the report aired, Kimaiyo accused the reporters of abusing media freedom and being unpatriotic and threatened them with arrest, provoking sharp criticism including in social media. Namu, Ali and the Standard Group CEO Sam Shollei were summoned by police for interrogation.

“We condemn these summons in the strongest terms possible and urge the police to wake up to the realities of the new constitution that guarantees the media certain rights including the very rights to access to and use of information. In any case, freedom of expression is secured in the bill of rights,” Citizen TV said in an editorial.

“Kenya’s press should not be targeted for airing the truth. The police should probe the real criminals at Westgate, not the messengers,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said.

“The police summons of John Allan Namu and Mohamed Ali is the latest in a downward spiral for press freedom in Kenya.”

The Media Council of Kenya, which has the sole legal responsibility of receiving and dealing with any complaints about media coverage and the conduct of journalists, also condemned the police move.

“Given the many, diverse and sometimes contradictory official explanations of what happened, the media – our newspapers, television, radios and digital outlets – have dutifully been carrying out their own investigations to establish the truth and keep Kenyans informed. This is their time-honoured function, role sanctified in the constitution,” MCK chairman Joseph Odindo said.

“Using police and criminal law to address grievances over media coverage is an abuse of state power. It is a deplorable assault on freedom of expression and the people’s right to know. Under the new constitutional dispensation, complaints over media coverage and the conduct of  journalists should be referred to the Complaints Commission of the Media Council of Kenya, not to police investigators.”

Kenya Correspondents Association said it considered the move to summon the KTN investigative journalists by police over their report on the Westgate Mall looting by army officers a serious affront to media freedom.

“The journalists have done their duty to the nation and the world, by providing information about what happened and the police should stop any attempt to intimidate them through summons or calls for their arrest under whatever pretext,” said KCA Chairman William Oloo Janak.

Janak said the attempt by the police to criminalize media coverage of the Westgate mall and the claims that the journalists lacked patriotism was diversionary and an attempt to deflect attention from the credibility issues facing the security forces over their handling of the mall terror attack.

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