Attacks on the Press 1999: Kenya

The year saw several arrests and other legal actions aimed at stifling press coverage of such issues as official corruption and constitutional reform, along with several cases of open violence against journalists by agents of the state.

One shocking example of the last was the February 15 abduction and beating of David Makali, editor of eXpression today, by unidentified armed men. Makali was abducted after he published an anonymous article on Kenyan drug trafficking. The article linked Assistant Minister Frederick Gumo to the illicit drug trade; Makali’s assailants demanded that he reveal the author’s identity. Five days after the attack, Gumo announced in a speech that journalists of Luyha ethnicity who criticized politicians would “be dealt with accordingly.” Makali is a Luyha.

In August, the Court of Appeal jailed The Post on Sunday editor Tony Gachoka for contempt. Judicial transparency was not advanced when Gachoka’s case was heard by three of the same judges whom he had allegedly scandalized in print by linking them to a local corruption case.

Meanwhile, an ongoing constitutional review was widely criticized for disregarding the media and thereby weakening the democratization process. In June, riot police in Nairobi used tear gas to break up a legal, peaceful demonstration organized after longtime president Daniel arap Moi said the review process should be handed over to Parliament–where his ruling Kenyan African National Union Party (KANU) holds a slight majority.

In November and December, the Nation Media Group launched the first domestic radio and television stations not beholden to President Moi’s government. The two new stations reach listeners only in the Nairobi area and will focus on current affairs.

Nation, Kenya’s leading independent media company, waited eight years for its radio and television broadcasting applications to be approved. Of the five other TV stations in the country, only two are commercial, but one of those is owned by a member of Moi’s KANU Party. The other is said to include businessmen with close KANU connections among its major shareholders.

February 15
David Makali, eXpression today ATTACKED

Makali, executive editor of the independent monthly newspaper eXpression today: The Journal of Democracy, Human Rights & the Media, was kidnapped and repeatedly assaulted.

Two men, one of whom identified himself as “Mukubwa,” visited Makali at his Nairobi office and invited him to attend a meeting of the Luyha People’s Forum–a lobbying organization composed of members of the Luyha ethnic group–at a nearby hotel. Alex Mukubwa is an official of the Luyha People’s Forum, but it is unclear whether this was in fact the same man.

As Makali entered the hotel where he was told the meeting would take place, one unidentified assailant grabbed him by the neck from behind, while another grabbed him by his waist. The two men carried him out of the hotel, began beating him, and shoved him into a waiting Toyota van. As many as 10 other individuals joined in the assault and abduction. At least three of the assailants were identified as police officers.

Makali’s assailants punched and kicked him repeatedly while pointing to sections of the February 1999 edition of eXpression today, which reported on drug trafficking in Kenya. “Why did you have to publish this?” the men asked Makali, demanding to know the author’s identity. When the assailants released Makali, they warned him that next time he would not live to tell the tale.

June 10
Mohammed Sheikh, The People IMPRISONED

Police in the Eastern Province town of Garissa arrested Sheikh, a journalist with the independent daily newspaper The People, because of a June 5 article stating that members of the ruling political party were funding tribal clashes in Garissa.

These same politicians are said to have ordered Sheikh’s arrest in order to shield themselves from the criticism of senior party officials.

Sheikh complained of ill treatment during his detention and expressed fear for his life. He appeared before the court on June 14 and was released the next day without charges.

July 22
Matiko Bohoko, Concord Weekly LEGAL ACTION

Kenyan authorities charged Bohoko, editor of the independent Concord Weekly, under a statute that prohibits publishing any newspaper without a bond that has been duly executed, registered, and delivered to the Kenyan registrar of books and newspapers.

In the past, Kenyan authorities have frequently criticized the Concord Weekly for what they considered its “alarmist” reports and alleged tendency to “insult” state officials.

Arraigned before Kibera resident magistrate Stephen Githinji, Bohoko was released on bail.

August 3
Julius Wanjohi, The People ATTACKED
Peter Waweru, The People ATTACKED

Wanjohi and Waweru, reporter and photographer, respectively, for the independent daily The People, were attacked and beaten, along with their driver, by employees of the Mbo-I-Kamiti Farmers’ Company in the Kiambu district of central Kenya.

The journalists were on assignment at the company’s headquarters when they were viciously attacked by a group of more than 50 farm workers and other staff armed with farming implements, stones, and other weapons. All three men required medical treatment for their injuries.

The attack followed a stand off between two rival factions within the Farmers’ Company, one of which was being ousted after a takeover of the company. Independent sources suggested that the attack may have resulted from one faction’s perception that The People‘s reporting favored the other faction, since other journalists at the scene were not attacked.

August 20
Tony Gachoka, The Post on Sunday IMPRISONED, LEGAL ACTION

The Court of Appeal issued a six-month jail sentence without the option of a fine to Gachoka, publisher of The Post on Sunday magazine, for contempt of court. This was reportedly the heaviest contempt penalty ever imposed in Kenya.

Gachoka’s publishing firm, The Post Ltd., was required to pay a fine of KSh 1 million (about US$13,500) before the magazine could 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 subjudice rule and making unjustified attacks on the appeals courts. The majority argued that the attacks were meant to bring the Kenyan judicial system into disrepute.

Attorney General Amos Wako had instituted criminal-contempt proceedings against Gachoka on February 15 in connection with two successive Post articles, 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. Three of the judges named in the offending articles sat on the bench that heard Gachoka’s case.

Gachoka said he had received death threats because of the articles. He fled initially to the United Kingdom, where he intended to claim political asylum, but later returned to Kenya to face charges. When the case was first heard, Gachoka swore in an affidavit that top government officials, including President Daniel arap Moi, were implicated in the scandal.

CPJ protested the incident in an August 26 letter to President Moi. Subsequently, Gachoka received a presidential pardon. He was released from prison on November 3.