- Police detained three journalists with the Kenyan independent 'East African Standard' for questioning today in connection with a story of political intrigue that ran in Saturday's edition. The 'East African Standard' had reported on a secret meeting between President Mwai Kibaki and an ex-Minister, reportedly considering re-entering the government.
According to the newspaper's chief executive officer, Tom Mshindi, the journalists were detained in connection with the report over President Kibabi. The weekend edition's managing director, Chaacha Mwita, sub-editor Dennis Onyango, and reporter Ayub Savula were still in police custody at the end of the day, although no formal complaint had been brought against the paper or charges filed against the journalists, Mr Mshindi told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The detentions stem from an article headlined "Kalonzo, Kibaki in secret meeting," which claimed that Kenyan President Kibaki had held a secret meeting with Kalonzo Musyoka, a member of parliament from the ruling NARC coalition. MP Musyoka was one of several cabinet ministers fired from their positions after they campaigned against President Kibaki's controversial draft constitution, which was defeated in a referendum in November 2005.
The 'East African Standard' reported that "the former Minister is said to have expressed a readiness to rejoin the government and take the Vice President's slot," and called the meeting "one of the most sophisticated political manoeuvres by the President yet." This reporting obviously crossed the political ambitions of the Kenyan President.
Ex-Minister Kalonzo and the Nairobi government issued denials after the story was published, and government spokesman Alfred Mutua followed up with a statement calling for the reporters and editor to be punished, the 'East African Standard' reported.
On Sunday, Kenya's Information and Communications Minister Mutahi Kagwe said he would ask the attorney general and police to take action against the newspaper, according to local news reports. This, it seems, was carried out by the detention of journalists Mwita, Onyango and Savula, causing strong protests by press freedom groups.
"If you detain reporters and editors for routine political coverage, you're essentially criminalising journalism itself," today commented Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. "We call on authorities to release our colleagues immediately and unconditionally, and ensure that the Kenyan press is free to report on political developments without such intimidation."
Meanwhile, a local independent media regulatory body, the Kenyan Media Council, summoned Mr Chaacha to appear before its Ethics and Complaints Commission on Thursday. Mr Mshindi told CPJ that he agreed that the Media Council was the appropriate body to handle any complaints against the newspaper.
Ezekiel Mutua, Secretary-General of the Kenya Union of Journalists, told CPJ that the government was using the story as an excuse to harass the 'East African Standard', which has run a series of critical articles targeting President Kibaki and other members of government. Press freedom traditionally has had a strong position in Kenya, nut President Kibaki has shown increasing disrespect of this institution over the last few years.
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