Kenyan TV and newspaper raided by masked police

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Thursday, March 2, 2006

The offices of Kenya's second largest TV and newspaper companies were raided simultaneously this morning by groups of masked police officers. The TV station was taken off the air for 13 hours, and the newspaper's press was damaged and its uncirculated copies burned. The Kenyan government is characterizing the incident as an evidence-gathering step of a national security investigation, in response to the paper and station's recent alleged publishing of false material to incite ethnic hatred and instability.

The Standard, Kenya's oldest daily newspaper, and the Kenya Television Network (KTN), the paper's sister TV station, were the targets of the raid. The company that owns both outlets is the second largest media source in the country. The raid marks the first time the Kenyan government has shut down a major media outlet, and punctuates a period of increased media freedom in Kenya.

The CEO of The Standard, Tom Mshindi, has reported that his staff was "roughed up" and intimidated during the raid. The raiders, wearing gas masks and driving unmarked vehicles, did not have a warrant and did not identify themselves as police, but a Standard staffer recognized the voice of a police commander among the raiding party. Later at a press conference, Internal Security Minister John Michuki acknowledged the raid occurred as part of a "state security" investigation.

On Tuesday, February 28, three reporters from The Standard were arrested for publishing stories Saturday about an alleged secret meeting between Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, and minister for the environment and deposed former foreign minister Kalonzo Musyoka, who has become an opposition figure to the president's policies, to resolve differences. Both Kibaki and Musyoka have denied having any such meeting.

The journalists are charged with "publishing false rumor with intent to cause alarm to the public", and have pleaded not guilty. The three were released on bail after their arraignment today.

Musyoka has expressed dismay at the government's actions, pointing out that there are standard legal recourses to such media actions that should be used, rather than a police attack.

KTN and The Standard have been increasingly critical of the president, who is seen by many as losing touch with the country.

The Standard was able to repair presses and produced a special edition late in the day. KTN also returned to the air in the afternoon, showing footage of the Standard raid. Both outlets reportedly had equipment removed or damaged during the raids, including computers, security cameras, and a backup power supply.