Letters   |   Kenya

Kenya: Accused of corruption, high court judges react harshly against journalist

August 26, 1999

His Excellency the Honorable Daniel arap Moi
The President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces
of the Republic of Kenya
Office of the President
Harambee House
Nairobi, Kenya


Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) deeply regrets the six-month jail sentence handed down to Tony Gachoka, publisher of The Post on Sundaymagazine, for contempt of court, and the exorbitant fine imposed on his publishing firm. Not only is the penalty disproportionate to the alleged offense, but the fairness of Gachoka's trial is also in question.

On August 20, 1999, Gachoka was jailed for six months without the option of a fine. This is reportedly the heaviest penalty ever imposed for contempt of court in Kenya. Gachoka's publishing firm, The Post Ltd., was fined Kshs 1 million (approx. US$13,500), which must be paid before the magazine can resume publication. With one judge dissenting, seven judges of the Court of Appeal, Kenya's highest court, ruled that Gachoka was guilty of contravening the sub judicerule and making unjustified attacks on the Appeal Courts, which they said were meant to bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

The Attorney-General, Amos Wako, instituted criminal contempt proceedings against Gachoka on February 15, 1999. This was in connection with two successive Postarticles, dated January 31 and February 7, in which Gachoka claimed that several judges, including Chief Justice Zaccheaus Chesoni, had received bribes in connection with the fake export scheme known as the "Goldenberg scandal."

Gachoka says that he received death threats because of the articles. He initially fled to the United Kingdom, where he sought political asylum. But he then returned to Kenya to face charges. When the case was first heard, Gachoka swore in an affidavit that top government officials, including Your Excellency, were implicated in the scandal.

CPJ is not concerned with the substance of Gachoka's allegations, but rather with the excessive severity of his punishment. In a free society, journalists should never be deprived of their liberty because of the news and analysis that they publish. Moreover, three of the judges named in the offending articles sat in the trial against Gachoka. This immediately calls into question the impartiality and fairness of the hearing.

It seems clear that the authorities chose to make an example of Gachoka to discourage other journalists from reporting on such controversial issues. Gachoka's sentencing seems a blatant attempt to muzzle journalists' fundamental right to freedom of expression and opinion, as guaranteed by international treaties to which, we respectfully remind Your Excellency, Kenya is a signatory. We therefore urge Your Excellency to pardon Tony Gachoka in order to show the international community that you are fulfilling Kenya's legal obligations.

CPJ would greatly appreciate a response from Your Excellency on these matters.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director





Join CPJ in Protesting Attacks on the Press in Kenya

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His Excellency the Honorable Daniel arap Moi
The President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces
of the Republic of Kenya
Office of the President
Harambee House
Nairobi, Kenya

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