Journalist jailed for criminal defamation

August 12, 2002

President Daniel arap Moi
Office of the President
Harambee House
Nairobi, Kenya

Via facsimile: (254)-2-721515

Your Excellency:
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged by the six-month jail sentence handed down to Njehu Gatabaki, opposition member of Parliament and the publisher and editor-in-chief of Finance magazine.

On August 9, Senior Principal Magistrate Wanjiru Karanja found Gatabaki guilty of publishing an “alarming report” and sentenced him to a six-month jail sentence without the option of a fine. The case stems from a December 1997 report in Finance, titled “Moi ordered Molo Massacre,” alleging that Your Excellency was responsible for ethnic clashes that plagued parts of Rift Valley Province in the early 1990s.

In her sentencing, Karanja called the article “irresponsible and alarming journalism” that “should and must be discouraged.” Gatabaki was taken into custody after the sentencing and remains in jail. He has indicated that he will appeal the ruling.

Gatabaki was originally arrested on December 5, 1997, and charged with three counts of publishing an “alarming” article. He was granted bail and released shortly thereafter. The case has been moving through Kenya’s backlogged court system since.

Gatabaki’s sentence comes after Your Excellency’s June signature of the contentious Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments), which increased 100-fold the bond publishers must pay to insure against losses they may incur from libel or defamation suits.

In addition, members of your family and other high-level politicians have brought–and won–several crippling libel and defamation suits against newspapers and bookstores, effectively silencing critical publications by bankrupting them.

These legal actions have created a climate of intimidation for the press in Kenya. As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending and promoting press freedom worldwide, we believe that journalists should never face criminal prosecution for fulfilling their professional duties.

Your Excellency, as the leader of your country, you are at the center of public debate. Therefore, you and other high-ranking government officials must tolerate public scrutiny, including harsh criticism. Journalists cannot fulfill their role as long as the government has the power to criminally prosecute them for their work.

We therefore urge you to do everything within your power to ensure that the case against Gatabaki is dropped, and that he is released from custody immediately. We also call on you to work toward decriminalizing press offenses in Kenya so that journalists are allowed to practice their profession freely, without fear of reprisal.

Thank you for your attention in this urgent matter. We await your reply.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director