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Kenya's First Lady Intimidates Press on World Press Freedom Day

Kenya's First Lady, Lucy Kibaki hold the Standard newspaper with her in the lead story

On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, Kenya's first lady stormed the offices of one of the country's major daily newspapers, harassing journalists on duty to protest coverage of an earlier incident in which she was involved.

Kenyan First Lady Lucy Kibaki, along with her security detail and Nairobi's provincial police boss, entered the offices of The Daily Nation just before midnight local time.

She then ordered her security staff to confiscate staff members' cell phones, cameras, and other equipment.

For the next five hours, Mrs. Kibaki berated The Daily Nation's staff, accusing them of publishing lies, abusing her and husband President Mwai Kibaki, and misleading Kenyans.

Mrs. Kibaki was protesting coverage of how she interrupted the weekend farewell party of the outgoing World Bank country director, who was her neighbor. She reportedly tried to get police to break up the party because the music was too loud.

Clifford Derrick is a cameraman for Kenya Television Network and last year's winner of the CNN African Journalist of the Year award. Mr. Derrick describes to VOA his encounter with Mrs. Kibaki and the police boss, the PPO, when his network assigned him to cover the event.

"I started taking pictures," he recalled. "After five minutes, she noticed I was taking pictures and then she ordered the PPO [Nairobi's provincial police boss] to come for me. As the PPO was hesitating, she advanced to my side herself and started asking me why I was taking the pictures. In the process, she grabbed my camera, though she never took it. I managed to hold it in my hands. Then she struggled with me to get a hold of the camera and the tape, and I refused. I managed to overpower her, and then, that was when she slapped me."

Mr. Derrick says he then slipped away into the washroom, where he exchanged the tape he was using with a blank one. Mrs. Kibaki had ordered him to be arrested, says Mr. Derrick, but he managed to hide among the furniture and continue filming.

Mr. Derrick says he felt, in his words, horrible and terrified by the incident, saying he could not believe something like that could ever happen.

The government spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The incident follows the release of a report last week by Freedom House. The U.S.-based human rights group, which issues an annual report on world press freedom, had downgraded its rating of Kenya from partly free to not free in its 2005 report.

The report, based on data from 2004, said the downgrade was primarily due to a government crackdown on the tabloid press and failure to liberalize strict media laws.