Kamau Ngotho, The East African Standard
HARASSED, LEGAL ACTION
Journalist Ngotho was charged with criminal libel in a Nairobi court in connection with a story he wrote in the January 8 issue of the daily East African Standard detailing alleged links between the government of President Mwai Kibaki and big business, according to local and international news reports. The article said there was a "new-found working relationship" between "top money men" close to former President Daniel arap Moi and members of the Kibaki government.
Ngotho was charged under section 194 of the Penal Code, a colonial-era legal provision, with defaming businessman John Macharia. The journalist was released on bail of Ksh 20,000 (US$260).
On January 11, police had detained Kwamchetsi Makokha, associate editor of The East African Standard, and questioned him for four hours in connection with the same story, and under the same law.
In a joint statement from their embassies, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden, and Denmark condemned the use of the criminal libel laws and said the Kenyan government was showing a "disturbing regression toward practices of the old regime." They also wrote that, "We would have expected that the police and the Ministry of Justice pursuit of accountability for corrupt activities would encourage investigation of those responsible, not seek to muzzle those who ask questions."
Kibaki's government came to power in December 2002 with a promise to fight corruption and end human rights abuses perpetrated under the Moi regime.
On January 19, the government announced it was dropping charges against Ngotho after he was granted a request to have his case heard in the High Court. Ngotho had argued that the case violated constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The government also declared that the archaic law under which he was charged would no longer be used. "Should any member of the public consider he/she has been libeled, he/she should pursue civil remedies in court rather than expect or invoke machinery of the State to investigate and institute criminal proceedings for libel," said Attorney General Amos Wako in a press statement.