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» 19.04.2010 - Kenyan leader speaks out on constitution affair
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Politics | Human rights | Media

Shock over raids against Kenya press

afrol News, 2 March - The size of the attack on independent media is unprecedented in the history of Kenya. Authorities raided the offices of 'The Standard', arrested three journalists, damaged and confiscated equipment, burned newspapers and shut down a broadcasting station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). Kenyans are shocked and protests are streaming in from the entire world.

Kenya has always been known as a relatively safe haven for the press, even during the authoritarian regime of ex-President Daniel arap Moi. As President Mwai Kibaki and his opposition Rainbow Coalition came to power two years ago, finally democracy had come to Kenya and media could feel safe to seek greater freedom. During the last months, an increasingly unpopular Kibaki however demonstrates an unprecedented disrespect of the press.

Last night, the shock became total as police troops raided the buildings housing Kenya's second largest selling daily, 'The Standard', and its broadcasting station, 'Kenya Television Network' (KTN). At KTN, police simply shut down the broadcaster, prohibiting it to air further news.

The same time another raid was carried out, on the printing press of 'The Standard' in Nairobi's industrial area. Authorities arrested three journalists working for the daily newspaper, seized and burnt copies of the 2 March issue, disabled the newspaper's printing press and confiscated equipment including computers, according to the Nairobi-based Africa Free Media Foundation (AFMF).

Tom Mshindi, chief executive of the Standard Group, told reporters in Nairobi, that the coordinated raids by non-uniformed armed men had targeted 'The Standard' newspaper's editorial offices, printing plant and the KTN's transmission centre. "We have very strong evidence to suggest that these acts were carried out by the police," Mr Mshindi said.

It is thought the reason for the raid was a story published by the newspaper last week, which claimed that President Kibaki had had a secret meeting with one of Kenya's opposition leaders, one of his former ministers. The police action came two days after Information and Communication Minister Mutahi Kagwe issued a warning against media abusing press freedom.

Minister Kagwe has also ordered FM stations operating in and around Nairobi to move their transmitters out of the capital. Today, he told journalists that he did not order the raid and knew nothing about it. He however promised to hold a news conference later on.

The massive attack on the Kenyan press has caused shock and outrage in Kenya and abroad. The African Editors' Forum (TAEF), which organises the African press, today called on President Kibaki and his government to "desist from, and prevent the terrorism meted against Kenyan journalists. We call for the immediate release of those detained, for the return of equipment stolen, and for the government to pay for the speedy repairs of broadcasting and printing equipment vandalised by the rogue policemen," said TAEF leader Mathatha Tsedu.

In another uncommon move, the UN and foreign representations in Kenya strongly protested this attack on the press. Klaus Toepfer, head of the UN offices in Nairobi and UNEP, expressed "alarm and concern" over the raid. The UN this evening published a statement condemning the attack on 'The Standard' and KTN.

Both the British and the US embassy in Nairobi issued strong-worded statements protesting the Kenyan action. The British high commissioner, Adam Wood, asked Kenyans to respect press freedom and the rule of law, adding that this also was the message from fellow European embassies. The US embassy in a statement called on the Kenyan government to "disavow today's actions, identify and discipline those responsible, and cease efforts to intimidate the press."

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