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Cablegate: Feeble Case Against Journalists Finally Dropped

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P 050615Z OCT 06
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
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LONDON AND PARIS FOR AFRICA WATCHERS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PREL PHUM KE
SUBJECT: FEEBLE CASE AGAINST JOURNALISTS FINALLY DROPPED

REF: A. NAIROBI 3726
B. NAIROBI 1077

This message is sensitive but unclassified; please handle
accordingly.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On September 29 the Government of Kenya
dropped its weak case against three journalists from the
Standard daily newspaper charged with publishing an alarming
story in February. The three men had been arrested two days
before the infamous March 2 Standard Media Raids. Although
it is certainly a victory for media freedom in Kenya that the
men will not be imprisoned for their report, it is still
troubling both that Kenyan law allows journalists to be
arrested for writing stories unfavorable to the government,
and that the government would try to use it. END SUMMARY.

Bittersweet Triumph
-------------------

2. (U) Acknowledging that it had no basis, on September 29
the Government of Kenya dropped its case against three
journalists from the Kenyan daily the Standard. The two
editors and one reporter were arrested on February 28 in
connection with a February 25 article reporting that
President Kibaki had met opposition leader and presidential
hopeful Kalonzo Musyoka at State House (ref B). The
journalists were charged (more than 24 hours after their
arrest, a violation of Kenyan law) under section 66 of the
Penal Code, which prohibits the publication of "alarming
articles," and released on bond. It is widely believed that
the article in question was part of what prompted the
government's raids on the Standard newspaper and sister
television station KTN two days later. The journalists'
trial began on August 14, the same day a case against two
Kenya Times journalists, arrested under the same law, was
similarly dropped (ref A).

3. (SBU) One of the arrested editors told poloff on October
3 that the government had no choice but to drop its case, as
no one had ever filed a complaint against the journalists,
including State House and Musyoka. In the course of the
first month of the trial, the prosecution brought forth only
two witnesses, both of whom, the editor explained, were men
who had taken the journalists' own statements at the time of
their arrest. Although relieved that the case is over, he
was troubled that the colonial-era law used against him and
his colleagues remains on the books. In a separate
conversation, another of the three journalists told poloff he
thought they were only off the hook for now, convinced the
government would find another "excuse to give us trouble."
Neither man expected the current government attitude towards
the media to improve before the 2007 general election.

COMMENT
-------

4. (SBU) While observers, including the Standard itself,
have rightly hailed the decision as a win for media freedom,
the government's actions - arresting journalists and holding
them without charges, charging them without a complaint, and
leaving the case open for seven months - smack loudly of
harassment. This is not to deny that journalism in Kenya
could benefit from improved professionalism, as the almost
certain fabrication of the offending story by someone
underscores. Nonetheless, in the context of expanded civil
freedoms since the end of the Moi era, it is disturbing to
see so many recent attempts by the government to harass and
intimidate the media.
RANNEBERGER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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