Journalist Suleiman Mbatiah is escorted to the police station where he was detained for almost nine hours. (Courtesy News 24)
Journalist Suleiman Mbatiah is escorted to the police station where he was detained for almost nine hours. (Courtesy News 24)

Kenyan police assault three journalists, detain one

New York, March 21, 2012–Kenyan authorities should hold responsible police officers who assaulted three reporters last week and drop a baseless legal case against one of them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At least 10 police officers in plainclothes surrounded Suleiman Mbatiah, a reporter for the Daily Nation, after he took photographs of an undercover traffic operation in the western town of Nakuru on March 13, according to news reports. “They came behind me while I was taking photos and grabbed my camera. I thought they were thieves,” Mbatiah told CPJ. The journalist said the men roughed him up, injuring his left arm, damaged his camera, and took him in a police van to the station, where they detained him for about nine hours. The police accused him of assaulting and obstructing police officers, resisting arrest, and crossing a highway in an illegal area, according to news reports.

Nakuru police chief Johnston Ipara told CPJ that Mbatiah was accused of assaulting a police officer, after the officer grabbed the journalist’s camera, and denied that Mbatiah was assaulted. While not formally charged, the journalist is expected to be arraigned in court this week in connection with the case, Mbatiah told CPJ.

Two journalists who witnessed the arrest, James Gitau with the Kenya News Agency and Sam Kimani of Radio Mwananchi and Kameme FM, said the police did assault Mbatiah and also said they had been roughed up and threatened with arrest, news reports said. “They threatened to arrest us after we inquired why they had arrested Mbatiah,” Gitau told CPJ.

“The era in which Kenyan police can abuse journalists with impunity must come to an end,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Police must drop the spurious accusations against Mbatiah and hold to account the police agents involved in this attack.”

Gitau and Kimani went to Nakuru’s Central Police Station to demand Mbatiah’s release, and he was released later that evening, local journalists told CPJ. Journalists in Nakuru are staging a media blackout on police coverage to protest the attack, Kimani said.