New president set to file charges against two leading newspapers

New York, April 8, 2003—Kenyan president Emilio Mwai Kibaki, who was elected in December 2002, has instructed his lawyers to file contempt-of-court charges against two private dailies.

The charges stem from stories that appeared in the March 31 editions of the independent East African Standard and the Kenya Times about a court case filed against President Kibaki by the local gas station chain Nyota Services Ltd. The company’s owner alleges that Kibaki and other senior members of the ruling National Rainbow Coalition bought gas for their cars on credit and now owe the company a total of 10 million Kenyan shillings (US$130,652).

The two articles published details of a court hearing held in mid-March during which Kibaki’s lawyers argued that the president cannot be sued for debt incurred before taking office and asked that his name be removed from the suit. The lawyers also asked court officials to force the newspapers to reveal the stories’ sources. The judge in the case has not yet ruled on these motions.

The two newspapers stand by their articles, saying they reported “matters that were factual, evidential and legal,” according to an April 8 report in the Nairobi-based Daily Nation.

“This is an unsettling development in a country whose newly elected leader ran on a platform of supporting press freedom,” said Joel Simon, the acting director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We urge President Kibaki to abandon these charges immediately, and to ensure that all Kenyan journalists are free to report on matters of public interest without fear of reprisal.”