- Last week's military-style raid on Kenya's 'Standard' daily newspaper is causing the government more and more trouble. Thousands of Kenyans today lend their support to press freedom, marching in the streets of Nairobi. Meanwhile, government officials find it increasingly difficult to explain the attack and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali claims the raid was carried out behind his back.
The 'Standard', Kenya's second largest daily newspaper, was raided by armed police officers in the night between 1 and 2 March. Equipment was destroyed, newspapers burned, computers confiscated, journalists arrested and the affiliate Kenya Television Network (KTN) was brought off the air. It was the most dramatic and toughest attack on the press in Kenya since independence.
Five days after the attacks, which provoked protests from all over the world, Kenyans are still wondering what caused this draconic measure. 'The Standard' had a conflict running with President Mwai Kibaki after it had reported that the Head of State had secretly met with his opponent Kalonzo Musyoka, possibly negotiating his return to government. Both politicians had denied the reports and demanded an excuse.
Since the raid, however, President Kibaki has refused to comment on his dispute with 'The Standard'. No official explanation for the military-style raid has been given from the presidency, although most Kenyans expect the action to have ordered directly from State House in Nairobi.
So far, only National Security Minister John Michuki has made public statements on the raid against 'The Standard'. He indeed was the first to confirm that the raid was sponsored by the Nairobi government, which had remained unclear since the armed officers wore no mainstream uniforms. Actually, the raid was carried out by the "Kanga group," an elite squad formed by the Director of Criminal Investigations, Joseph Kamau, to fight serious crime such as carjackings, bank robberies and murders.
The statements given by Minister Michuki however did not calm down the increasingly astonished Kenyan public. "Whatever is going on there touches on a matter of national security," the Minister told the Nairobi press. Adding that he understood the attack on 'The Standard' was a serious matter, he said that "When you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it."
The comment caused further outrage. Newspaper commentators and opposition leaders turned their anger against Minister Michuki, many demanding his dismissal. Even ministers of the ruling NARC coalition distanced themselves to Mr Michuki.
The protesting voice that has been given most attention is however Police Commissioner Hussein Ali, who told the Kenyan 'Daily Nation' that the raid had been carried out behind his back while he was at an official visit in Seychelles. Mr Ali has headed his own investigation into the raid, to establish whether there exists "a parallel force" within his police, following orders from State House.
Yesterday, only 12 hours after returning from Seychelles, the police chief managed to get a meeting with President Kibaki and Minister Michuki, where he demanded to know "what had been going on behind his back." Mr Ali yet has to tell the press about his conclusions, but the Kenyan police chief is rapidly turning into a popular hero for his outspokenness.
Protesters met no obstacles when asking for a police permission to arrange marches in defence of press freedom in Nairobi and other Kenyan cities today. Thousands participated alone in Nairobi. The typical banners called for the dismissal of Minister Michuki and the crowds were chanting "Kibaki must go!" Mr Michuki's snake comparison was generally used to picture the government. Many protesters also called for the protection of police commissioner Ali.
Meanwhile, 'Standard' editor Chaacha Mwita and reporters Ayub Savula and Dennis Onyango have been released on bail and the daily newspaper is on the streets again. The three journalists have been charged with "publishing alarming statements," although there are no details on which way they had "rattled the snake" in these charges.
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