After al-Qaeda report, Kenyan police harass Star

New York, August 18, 2009The Committee to Protect Journalist is concerned Kenyan police are attempting to intimidate journalists at the private daily, The Star, to reveal their sources for a June 20 article that said the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit had lost crucial files about an accused al-Qaeda member.

In July, officers of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit interrogated Investigations Editor Andrew Teyie and reporter Maina Kamore for four hours about the sources for their story, according to defense lawyer Paul Muite. The police also summoned the newspaper’s editor, Catherine Gicheru, and political editor, Paul Ilado, for questioning.

After refusing to reveal their sources, Teyie and Kamore received a summons to appear August 12 in the magistrate’s court in the coastal city of Mombasa to explain how they obtained information for the article, according to the court summons. Muite wrote a letter to Attorney General Amos Wako saying the summons breached Kenyan law; an individual cannot be summoned to court, he said, without either facing charges or being designated as a witness. On August 12, presiding judge Linah Mutende voided the summons after finding irregularities, Teyie told CPJ. 

Later the same day, police sought to have contempt-of-court charges lodged against the two, stemming from the article’s reference to three people accused of hosting Fazul Abdulla Mohammed, the suspected al-Qaeda operative wanted by international authorities, in December 2007 and August 2008. Police asserted the identifications jeopardized the prosecution of the three. The judge declined to lodge the contempt charges after Muite argued that only the attorney general could bring such a case.

By day’s end, police filed a request for court order that would direct The Star to retract the article and issue an apology. A hearing on the request is expected on October 7.

“We are alarmed by Anti-Terrorism Police attempts to force these journalists to reveal their sources,” CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes said. “This harassment against Teyie, Kamore, and The Star should be halted immediately.”

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told CPJ that the files had not been lost, and that police had a duty to investigate misinformation. Muite, however, said police had never before disputed the article’s main assertion, either prior to publication or during the August 12 hearing.

Mohammed is wanted for alleged involvement in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi and the 2002 bombing of Paradise Hotel at Kikambala.