Two Kenyan journalists threatened for their reporting

New York, April 13, 2012–Kenyan authorities must investigate threats made against two journalists who covered a police raid on a supermarket, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. One of the journalists was also threatened in relation to another story he published.

On April 5, Osinde Obare, a reporter for the private daily The Standard, and David Musindi, a journalist for Radio Citizen, ran stories on a police raid on a market in the western Kenyan town of Kitale, the journalists told CPJ. The market had allegedly been selling fake maize seeds, according to news reports.

Obare’s article cited members of the public saying that the market owner, Mahindra Khetia, was protected by the police and therefore avoided arrest, local journalists told CPJ. The day the stories ran, Luca Ogara, the police chief in Kitale, called Obare, asking him why he wrote a negative story on the supermarket and the police, Obare told CPJ. The official also told Obare there would be repercussions, the journalist said. Ogara told CPJ that he did not threaten Obare, but said that he had asked him for his sources.

On April 8, Obare received an anonymous call warning him to “never set foot in Kitale,” he told CPJ. He had temporarily left the town to attend a workshop in Nairobi, but had returned to Kitale this week, he said.

Musindi told CPJ he had been threatened by Khetia while covering the raid on April 4. When Musindi attempted to interview Khetia, the supermarket owner “snubbed him and threatened to ensure the journalist was removed from Kitale” if he aired the story, a report released today by The Standard said. Musindi was able to record the threat, which he gave to The Standard, the journalist told CPJ. The story was broadcast on Radio Citizen on April 5, Musindi said.

Messages left at the supermarket for Khetia were not returned.

Both journalists told CPJ that unidentified men had been following them since they covered the story, which had forced them to hide in an undisclosed location. They said they had filed complaints with the police.

Obare told CPJ he had also been threatened in relation to another story he had published. The journalist ran a story in The Standard last month alleging that District Commissioner Nyamongo Nyabero had stolen relief food meant for hunger victims in Pokot South District in western Kenya, and had resold it in a market. On April 5, Nyabero allegedly threatened Obare over the phone, saying he would “make sure you die while seated,” the journalist said. Obare reported the threat to Kitale police station, he said. Nyabero was arraigned in court on Tuesday and charged with theft, news reports said. Repeated calls by CPJ to Nyabero were not returned.

“Journalists in western Kenya are repeatedly targeted by local officials for their corruption coverage,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Kenyan authorities must end this practice, and they should start by immediately investigating these threats against Osinde Obare and David Musindi.”

In January 2009, assailants brutally murdered Weekly Citizen journalist Francis Nyaruri shortly after his coverage of a police housing scandal in western Kenya.