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Human Rights And Media Groups Angry Over Editors' Arrests - 2003-09-30


Media rights organizations in Kenya have reacted angrily to the arrest of three editors of a local newspaper for publishing confessions of suspects in the murder of a University of Nairobi lecturer mid September.

The Kenya Union of Journalists, the Media Development Association and the Kenya Human Rights Commission Tuesday condemned the National Rainbow Coalition Government for the Monday arrest of three editors of the East African Standard for carrying a story on the murder of former University of Nairobi lecturer Odhiambo Mbai last Sunday.

Mr. Ezekiel Mutua is Secretary General of the Kenya Union of Journalists, KUJ.

He says, "I think it was uncalled for, it is a step backwards, it is very retrogressive and it paints the NARC government in very bad light considering that this is a government that assumed power on the basis of change, on the platform of reforms and it promised and gave a commitment that human rights would be protected, and that media freedom and freedom of expression would be upheld."

Mr. Mutua says by arresting the three editors the NARC government has contravened all the promises on human rights it made during electioneering last year and is fast loosing the goodwill and support of Kenyans.

Police arrested East African Standard Managing Director Tom Mshindi and senior editors David Makali and Kwamachesi Makokha Monday for publishing confessions of suspects in the murder of former University of Nairobi political Science lecturer Dr Odhiambo Mbai mid September. Three police officers are also reported to be undergoing interrogation in police stations over the story.

According to the story in the Sunday Standard, Dr. Mbai’s killers were paid about 6,500 US dollars by a Nairobi-based NARC politician to carry out what some people say was a political assassination. The paper also carried a verbatim account of the interrogation police carried with the suspects.

Dr Mbai was chairman of a committee that was looking at ways of reducing the powers of the Presidency at The Constitution of Kenya Review Commission sitting in Nairobi. His recommendations on the subject did not go well with some politicians, who according to some delegates at the conference, had threatened him.

But speaking to the Kenya Television Network, KTN in the coastal town of Mombasa Sunday, Internal security Minister Dr. Chris Murungaru said it was unethical for the newspaper to publish the details of the police interrogation.

"By exposing this kind of information to the public before it has been verified, by collecting closed facts and information you are already jeopardizing the trial, in actual fact this kind of thing puts into jeopardy the bringing to justice those who killed Dr. Mbai."

Mr. Murungaru also cautioned politicians to desist from making statements in public rallies on Dr. Mbai’s death. He says those with information about the don’s killing should record statements with the police instead.

But Mr. Mutua of the journalists union says police records are public documents, the publication of which is no crime. He says his union will lobby international human rights organizations, press freedom campaigners and international donors to pressure the NARC government to respect press freedom.

He also called for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr. David Makali who was still being held by police at an undisclosed location.

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