Raids, arrests mark crackdown on Kenya’s ‘alternative press’

New York, February 21, 2006—Police in Kenya raided two tabloid newspapers on Monday, confiscating equipment and documents and arresting several journalists in the capital, Nairobi. Police also detained news vendors selling the so-called “alternative press” publications, which are known for provocative reporting on sex and political scandals.

Local journalists told the Committee to Protect Journalists that the raid on the privately owned Weekly Citizen stemmed from a front-page story in this week’s edition titled “Kibaki Senile,” which alleged that President Mwai Kibaki was not in control of the government.

Three reporters and at least two other newspaper employees were in police detention today and could face criminal charges, Managing Editor Tom Alwaka told CPJ today. They include reporters Josphat Mativo, Ken Teyie, and Austin Alwaka; a receptionist, Catherine Oyando; and a printer, Paul Kimani. The managing editor, who said he was in hiding for fear of arrest, said a freelance journalist was also arrested yesterday but was released after several hours in detention.

The Weekly Citizen also ran a front-page story detailing infighting within Kibaki’s ruling NARC coalition. Similar stories have recently run in the mainstream press.

The private weekly The Independent was also raided on Monday, the paper’s editor and publisher confirmed to CPJ. Mburu Muchoki, who also spoke to CPJ from hiding, said that the reasons behind the raid were unclear. One journalist from the paper, Bernard Wambugu, was detained on Monday and released today without charge, Muchoki said.

Ezekial Mutua, secretary-general of the Kenya Union of Journalists, said the detentions could signal a crackdown on the media. “The government, which is under siege over corruption, will use this as an excuse to harass and intimidate journalists who are going about their duties,” he said.

“We are deeply concerned that the police have raided newspapers and detained journalists for what they have written,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “These actions call into question Kenya’s commitment to press freedom.”

The last crackdown on the alternative press was in 2004, according to CPJ records. That year, police raided tabloid offices and newsstands in Nairobi and other cities, confiscating copies and detaining dozens of vendors who had been selling the papers. Equipment seized from the Weekly Citizen was never returned, Tom Alwaka told CPJ.