The International Federation of Journalists today called on the Kenyan authorities to apologise for violent attacks on media in Nairobi this week and to reassure journalists that there will be no more acts of intimidation and violence against reporters and media staff.
“What we have seen is a brutal and violent assault on press freedom,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, commenting on Wednesday’s assault on the Nairobi offices of a newspaper and a television station. “It is an unspeakable affront to democracy when a government turns to violence to stifle the voice of its media critics.”
Armed and masked police forces swooped on the offices and printworks of The Standard newspaper, confiscating and burning thousands of copies of the paper, and the Kenyan Television Network was raided and taken off the air for several hours. Computers and other equipment were taken away.
Three Standard journalists were arrested before the police assault amidst government accusations of media incitement to racial hatred and fabrication of stories. However, the IFJ and other observers are convinced the attacks are more likely to be related to media coverage of recent corruption scandals which have rocked the government. The Standard in particular, has been critical of President Mwai Kibaki's handling of the scandals.
“Here is a government desperate to avoid the spotlight of public concern over deeply embarrassing revelations of corruption in high places,” said White. “They have typically responded by trying to make media scapegoats for their own poor performance.”
So far this year three government ministers have resigned after newspapers revealed the facts behind a corruption investigation.
The IFJ rejected statements by Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe that the government remains committed to press freedom and from Internal Security Minister John Michuki that the raids on the Standard were designed to protect state security.
“In a democracy you do not have hooded men carrying assault rifles breaking into the offices of a newspaper and a television station in the middle of the night and beating up journalists and other staff,” said White. “To talk of press freedom in such circumstances is grotesque.”
He said the government must move quickly to restore public confidence. “There needs to be an urgent commitment to respect press rights, an apology to media about what has happened and an undertaking that police will never again trample over the rights of independent journalism,” he said.
The arrested journalists, who have been charged with publishing alarming statements concerning the President, have been released on bail but the IFJ says the charges against them should be dropped immediately.
For further information contact the IFJ : +32 2 235 22 00
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries