|JANUARY 10, 2004|
Posted: January 16, 2004
The Weekly Wembe
Kenyan police raided newsstands in major Kenyan towns and cities, confiscating thousands of copies of several publications known as "scandal sheets." The police also raided The Independent's printing press in the capital, Nairobi, and seized plates and other press equipment. At least 15,000 copies of The Independent were impounded, along with thousands of copies of other publications, according to press reports.
Officers arrested up to 20 news vendors, who had been selling the papers, and detained them in police cells, according to local journalists. On January 12, the confiscations and arrests continued outside of the capital.
The official reason for the police actions is that the publications were not in compliance with rules governing the publication and sale of newspapers. In the lead-up to the crackdown, Attorney General Amos Wako invoked the provisions of a repressive media law known as the Books and Newspapers Act, which the ruling National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) had promised to scrap during campaigning in 2002. According to local journalists, Wako did not specify which part of the Act had been violated.
Information Minister Raphael Tuju has said that the police acted against newspapers operating illegally. However, according to the Secretary General of the Kenya Union of Journalists, Ezekiel Mutua, at least some of the targeted publications, including The Independent, had registered and were operating in compliance with the law.
Local journalists told CPJ that they believe the confiscations and arrests were linked to the publications' content. Along with gossip surrounding celebrities and other public figures, Kenya's scandal sheets also publish critical analyses of political developments, as well as exposés of alleged misdeeds by politicians. According to local journalists, the decision to target the publications might have been provoked by recent stories about President Mwai Kibaki's home life, or by reports detailing alleged corruption by members of the government. According to news reports, the lead story from the confiscated issue of Kenya Confidential was titled "Why the Kibaki Government is Losing Popularity."
Local journalists said that the government's actions were an attempt to intimidate vendors into refusing to sell scandal sheets. According to an editorial in the independent daily Nation, the seizures constitute "a crude attempt to silence publications that print what some consider unpalatable."
On January 13, fifteen newspaper vendors in the cities of Nyeri and Mombasa were charged with selling illegal publications. According to The Nation, they were accused of selling newspapers whose first and last pages did not display the name and address of their printer or publisher.