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Kenya: The Standard Is Back Online

Media Shutdown in Kenya

See Mentalacrobatics for excellent coverage of the media shutdown.

I went to look at a news story on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation site a moment ago, and on the page there was this ominous message, which I take to be a form of SOS:

BREAKING NEWS:  Kenya Television Network, KTN is off-air and Standard newspapers off streets after people said to be security agents conducted an overnight operation shutting down their facilities. Information Minister denies prior knowledge of the raid. KBCNewsAlert…


They also have a story on the raid on a newspaper printing plant there:

Raid on media House condemned
The Standard Group Chief Executive Tom Mshindi has condemned the invasion on the Group’s printing plant and offices, saying it was an unwarranted affront on Media freedom. seems to have the most detailed account:

Close to 100 masked men, some armed with AK-47 assault rifles, raided the offices and printing press of Kenya's Standard Group, stopping the operations of its television station and newspaper, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

The masked men staged simultaneous raids on the editorial offices of Kenya Television Network (KTN) and the group’s printing press in a Nairobi industrial area, where they vandalized machines and carried away some machinery crucial for production.
At both premises, the raiders, who struck shortly after midnight on Wednesday night, roughed up security officers who were on duty and managed to access the group’s headquarters after one of the men in the group identified themselves as a police officer and demanded entry.

The security men were all herded into a corner as the attackers demanded access to the editorial floors and the KTN transmission room where they took away a computer, some power units and interfered with cables, effectively disabling transmission.

At the printing press, they vandalised equipment and burned most of the Thursday papers, which were either rolling off the press or were being packaged fordistribution.

See also

  • African News Dimension: Kenya : Police raid, shut down KTN and burn Standard newspaper
  • Reuters: KENYA: Leading media house shut down by armed men

    The men, who stormed the media house at 1.00 a.m. local time [10.00 GMT], took away computers and transmission equipment, damaged the presses and set fire to Thursday's editions of the country's oldest newspaper. "We have very strong evidence to suggest that these acts were carried out by the police," Mshindi said.

  • The BBC: 'Police' raids close Kenya paper

    Staff say they were beaten and forced to lie on the floor

  • AP: Gunmen shut down Kenyan paper, TV station
  • The closure came after three journalists were detained without charge for a story Saturday that alleged Kibaki met secretly with a key opponent. Kibaki and former environment minister-turned Kibaki foe, Kalonzo Musyoka, have denied the meeting took place.

    Mutua said police on Tuesday summoned The Saturday Standard Managing Editor Chacha Mwita, News Editor Dennis Onyango and journalist Ayub Savula and questioned them.

    The journalists remain in police custody, and authorities have yet to comment about the detentions. Mshindi has said no charges have been filed.

Alex at Yorkshire Ranter provides more details and Kenyan diplomatic contact info world wide. See also Xeni at BoingBoing.

CnnkenyaUPDATE: The kenyan government now admits to the raid. From CNN:

The police spokesman said journalists at the Standard had been paid to write a series of fabricated articles about the government, and that police were acting on intelligence information about "an intended act" that would threaten national security.

I've been trying to parse the politics of all this on the fly. There is an interesting Flickr photostream, also featured on BoingBoing, concerning governmental hostility to journalists in Kenya. In it figures Health minister Charity Ngilu. 105418887_67db38b9cb_mThe photo to the right is captioned:

Health Minister Charity Ngilu found herself in a tight spot when journalists blocked her way. They wanted to know which side she was supporting during the referendum elections in Kenya held in November last year. She voted 'Yes' but the government lost their quest for a new constituion by more than a three million voters who said 'No' against the government two.

There are some recent articles in which she is featured. One I found intrguing was this one from the Standard: Ngilu says all parties in Narc must be consulted

The National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) chairperson, Charity Ngilu, wants constituent parties to be consulted before party recruitment and elections are held.

The Health minister, who dismissed reports that her colleagues were forming another party, said none of the partners in Narc should be ignored.

"First, we must sit down and agree on modalities before anyone calls for member recruitment or elections," she said.

A local dairy reported yesterday that President Kibaki’s allies were split on whether to form another party, Narc-Kenya, or hold elections for the ruling coalition.

Ngilu said despite the woes afflicting the coalition, those still supporting it must agree on whether to hold elections or not.

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has abandoned the coalition to join the Official Opposition party, Kanu, to form the Orange Democratic Movement. The two coalitions are fielding candidates in the Kasipul-Kabondo by-election scheduled for today.

Livestock minister Joseph Munyao has backed the move to form another party.

Munyao, who is the Democratic Party secretary-general, said they were trying to find ways of "working round" the issue.

"We are burning midnight oil to come up with a solid body for next year’s General Election. If we decide that it will be the same coalition then it will be," he said.

Burning the midnight oil? Looks to me like someone's been burning the midnight newspaper. There's also this story: Ngilu, Central MPs headed for NARC showdown

I have a few correspondents in that neck of the woods and am trying to get a sense of what to make of all this. I'll let you know what I find out.

It is now March 3rd there, and the new front page is up on the KBC site:

Police admit raid on media

GREAT BLOG COVERAGE of the media shutdown from Mentalacrobatics in Kenya. I'm just starting to read it.

There is a letter being crossposted on the blogs of Kenya which reads:

Press Freedom: Letter to Kibaki
Dear President Kibaki:

On March 2, 2006 government forces raided the headquarters and printing plant of the Standard Group. In addition to destroying equipment and newspapers, they shut down the KTN news station.

This latest attack follows the jailing of three journalists from Standard Newspaper, attacks on Citizen Weekly, and ongoing harassment of journalists by government-sponsored forces.

I urge you to condemn these attacks and to support freedom of the press.

**Please copy and paste a copy of this letter on your blog. You may alter the wording to suit your needs.

The rest of us outside Kenya should also urge President Kibaki to condem the attacks and support freedom of the press.

Mentalacrobatics has a number of really fine posts on the situation. I'm going to mirror two of them to get them to the larger audience they deserve:

Raid on EA Standard

The raid was a matter of State Security. When you rattle a snake you must be prepared to be bitten by it.
National Security minister, John Michuki

I had written this long post on the illegal raid on the EA Standard this morning when this quote by Michuki a man so detached from reality he should be not be holding any position of power, lit up my screen. The man has lost it completely. He needs to go now.

OK let’s just make this official, our government has totally lost it. An elite police force, set up to fight armed robbery, carjacking, outlawed sects, illegal paramilitary militias is used to shut down a media house? Madness.

A quick read of the story has identified two areas of concern for me:

  1. The raid was led by Mr James Njiru, assistant police commissioner in charge of operations at the provincial police headquarters. Njiru’s boss the Nairobi Provincial Police Chief Mwangi King’ori, claims that he did NOT know that the raid was taking place. Even more shocking, The head of the Police, the number one guy, Police Commissioner Major General Hussein Ali has expressed shock at the raid on the Standard offices. Ali, who called the ‘Standard’ newsroom from Seychelles where he is on official duty, said he was unaware of the raid and said he would be issuing a statement later after getting the full report from his officers in Nairobi. It looks like the raid was timed to coincide with Ali being out of the country.
  2. The raid was aimed at a media house, yet the Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe claims he did NOT know the raid was taking place.

Who ordered the raid? Who knew about the raid? Why wasn’t the police chain of command observed and informed? Or rather, who is powerful enough to ignore the police chain of command? All roads lead to State House as Michuki proudly boasts.

This has got to be the most stupid thing that the government could do. It is so stupid you start to look for a hidden story. There must be something else going on … but no it was just a stupid move.

What have they achieved? The EA Standard will still come out, this type of action seems to galvanise not intimidate Kenyan journalists, and with the power of the internet the whole world is talking about this story. Search for Kenya Police Raid on Google news and you will find that CNN, BBC, San Jose Mercury News - USA, Reuters, Xinhua - China, Financial Times - UK, Washington Post, Mail & Guardian Online - South Africa, United Press International, Pravda - Russia, African News Dimension, CPJ Press Freedom Online, ABC News, Los Angeles Times, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, Hindustan Times, India all carry the story and those are only from page 1 of around 4 (and counting) pages on the story. 

What the hell is Alfred Mutua going to bang on about at his next press conference? How will he be able to look at his former colleagues in the eye?
Pictures from the BBC

    1 comment    March 2nd, 2006            

Press harrasement Kibaki style

Two Standard editors and a reporter were yesterday questioned and detained by police for hours  over a story, which claimed that Kalonzo Musyoka had met Kibaki at State House two weeks ago, published last Saturday … Afterwards, the three said they were not questioned but were asked to record what they knew about the story and disclose their source … they were then told to wait for instructions “from above” on the way forward.

This is ridiculous. The one thing that drives me mad about Kenya is the stupid, “orders from above” nonsense. Here we have professionals doing their job and they get harassed by police for no reason other than, “orders from above”. If anyone feels that the journalists have broken the law then let him follow due process and take them to court.  Kenya Democracy Project asks, “… how insecure can a regime be that they move in with a sledge hammer to stifle a story- especially if it is allegedly “not true”.”

Do not forget that this comes hot on the heels of last week’s move to muzzle the press when thirteen employees of the Weekly Citizen were arrested as dozens of police officers swooped on vendors and confiscated copies of the newspaper. The 43 newspaper vendors who were also arrested for selling the newspapers were behind bars for 3 days and then released without being charged. Kumekucha observers, “Reading between the lines, the whole objective was just to intimidate the poor newspaper vendors so that they’ll be frightened to sell the next issue of the Weekly Citizen.” I agree with him. All this at a time when the government spokesman is busy spending tax payers money on adverts about “Democratic Space” that President Kibaki has so kindly given us.

Kalonzo Musyoka should stand up and voice his disapproval with these latest arrests. That would be true leadership.

    7 comments    March 1st, 2006            

There is a webring of 159 Kenyan blogs. (The members of the Kenyan Blogs Webring are spread all over the world.) Links to them can be found here. Some of them are covering the media shut down. (As is usual with a bunch of blogs, many have not been upated in a while.) Poking around the in-Kenya discussions is interesting, in that there is a certain contingent saying stuff like I know where the government is coming from. I'm sorry, but that response smacks strongly of Stockholm Syndrome. There can be NO EXCUSE for the Kenyan government to behave this way.

UPDATE: From the Thinker's Room, blogging from Kenya:

Well! Whenever I say Mwai Kibaki is the type of man who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, he grits his teeth in determination and exemplifies the notion. And then when I say that no matter how low the bar is set, the Kibaki Government will find a way to slither under.

For me, this photo by Fredrick Onyango just says it all:


The caption reads:

Journalist take to task former internal security minister Dr. Chris Murungaru over the Anglo leasing scandal that has fleeced the country billions of Kenyan shillings. The minister is said to have sanctioned the purchase of Military and naval ships during his tenure as a minister.With the vibrant and libralisation of the media in Kenya, most of the government official are being put on the spot on how they are spending the taxpayers money.

I just love the expressions on the faces of the members of the press in this photo and others in the photostream.

UPDATE: Mentalacrobatics has security camera pix from the raid on CCTV which I have taken the liberty of uploading to Flickr so that they may achieve broader distribution:


Mentalacrobatics comments on the pix:

Here are some stills taken during the raid from internal CCTV cameras. The raid were carried out by a rapid response unit code-named the Kanga Squad, detectives from Nairobi provincial CID headquarters and officers from the General Service Unit. They are wearing bright orange reflective vests with “QRU” for Quick Rescue Unit/Quick Response Unit which indicates their day job of fight hardcore criminals like carjackers, bank robbers and murder hit squads.

These pictures are very disturbing. In some of them they have an employee spread eagled on the floor with a gun pressed against his/her head and a boot in his/her face. Remember these are NOT criminals being man handled like this. These are Kenyan men and women who went to work only to be pistol whipped and roughed up by an elite police squad.

Here are some very-much-to-the-point comments from au lait in Kenya:

So, surprise, surprise. 'Our' dear government has once again proven that it is hellbent on its peculiar course of self-destruction. As one person said today, this government is surely "suicidal".

Enyewe seriously, what were they thinking?

That's the first thing that came to mind when I woke up today to the news that KTN and Standard offices had been invaded commando style by guys in masks and the police.

It really comes doesn't come as news that our government is not made up of the sharpest tools, BUT did the person who ordered this attack even stop to think? At all?

Who told those guys to attack after midnight? Is that the only time that those who sit in State House can find their way to I&M or Nation Centre (invoking precedent here). And then some bright guy, decided they should wear ski masks. I wonder if they bought them from the same store Al-Qai'dah frequents.

I've come across people defending the government's action but really? I mean really people really? Those guys were thugs!!!! Common thugs. Why the dramatic ski masks if this was all a clean exercise to rein in an out-of-control media house?