Kenya: Journalist jailed for offending presidential guards

February 24, 2000

Mr. Amos Wako
Nairobi, Kenya
BY FAX: 254-744 289

Dear Mr. Wako:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is shocked by the eighteen-month jail sentence handed down to Johann Wandetto, a reporter for the daily The People newspaper, based in Kitale, Rift Valley Province.

Wandetto was charged in the magistrate’s court on February 15 with publishing an “alarmist report” in the March 6, 1999, edition of The People. The article, titled “Militia men rob eight crack unit officers: Shock as Moi’s men surrender meekly,” claimed that elite presidential guards had been ambushed by militiamen in the remote West Pokot area of the country. Witnesses from the presidential guard denied this.

The magistrate’s court also charged Wandetto with publishing false news. This was in connection with an article (date unavailable) in which he had quoted a minister in President Moi’s government who called for the posthumous trial of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, for alleged “crimes” committed during his presidency. The minister denied calling for such a trial. In view of this, according to local journalists, the authorities considered Wandetto to be a nuisance and he was therefore punished with a “deterrent” sentence.

CPJ, a non-partisan organization dedicated to the defense of press freedom worldwide, strongly condemns the eighteen-month jail sentence, without the option of a fine, imposed on Wandetto. Without commenting on the content of the article in question, CPJ considers the incarceration of Wandetto completely unjustifiable. The intended effect of the sentence is clearly to intimidate journalists. This violates all journalists’ rights to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, all to which we respectfully remind you, Kenya is a signatory.

CPJ therefore urges you to order the immediate and unconditional release of Wandetto, and to do everything in your power to ensure that journalists in Kenya are free to carry out their profession without fear of similar reprisals.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We would welcome your comments.


Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director