On March 2, 2006,
Kenyan state agents conducted a commando-style midnight raid on the
Standard Group, owner of an independent daily and KTN Television in the capital,
agents seized computers and tapes, vandalized a printing press, and burned roughly
20,000 copies of The Standard, Chief Executive Officer Tom
Mshindi told me recently in Nairobi.
On each anniversary since, the Standard Group calls for inquiries into the raid.
Paul Muite, a former member of parliament from Kabete and a vocal critic of
President Mwai Kibaki, made a public statement at the Standard Group's office on this year's anniversary--and believes that, as
a result, he is now being
In addition, Kibaki's
four children have since threatened to sue Muite for defamation, he told me,
based on allegations that he linked them to the raid, which he denies.
I traveled to Kenya this
month to investigate recent attacks on press freedom. Muite said he has mainly been
targeted because he made public accusations that the government was involved in
extrajudicial killings. But he said his most recent comments about the Standard
Group raid "was possibly the last straw." Earlier this month, Muite told
newspapers that an elite police squad known as the "KweKwe squad" widely
thought to be responsible for a series of extrajudicial killings had
instructions to kill him. "I got information that I was under surveillance by
the squad so I had to go public quickly," he said.
As the former chairman
of the Parliamentary Commission of Justice and Legal Affairs, Muite has
repeatedly called for answers regarding the raid. The confiscated equipment has
not yet been returned, and the reasons and people behind the raid remain murky.
The day after the midnight raid, then-Security Minister John Michuki told
the press it was a police operation to protect state security. "If you
rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it," he was reported as
saying in international news reports.
But the police commissioner, who was outside the country at
the time of the raid, emphatically disputed police involvement, KTN researcher
Patrick Mugo told CPJ. Muite and others allege that two Armenian brothers--commonly
referred to as "the Artur brothers," who were deported in 2006 on various
criminal charges--led the raid in conjunction with state agents. A police
investigation revealed that the confiscated computers were kept at their
private homes, Muite and local journalists told me. Artur Margaryan and Artur
Sargasyan gained notoriety for pulling a gun
on a custom official at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta
Airport just two months
after the raid, according to news reports. In June 2006, Kibaki appointed the
former Commissioner of Police Shadrack Kiruki look into the Artur brothers' activities
but the findings were never
released to the public.
"We at KTN believed it was individuals within the government
and security services that that ordered the raid," Mugo said.
In Muite's view, the raid was prompted by an earlier edition
of the paper that had an article concerning the first family. Just weeks after
Muite's public comments on the anniversary of the raid, Kibaki's four children
sent a letter through their lawyer demanding an apology from Muite for
connecting them with the raid. Muite has dismissed the letter, saying at no
time did he mention or talk about the four children at the Standard Group raid
Whatever the reason for the raid, the incident sent a clear
message to Kenya's
press that they could be censored at any time without warning. The controversial Section 88 clause in the
Kenya Communication (Amendment) Act 2009 that allows the minister of security
to raid media houses on state security grounds is still
in effect and could be used again.
independent media remains steadfast. Despite damages to their printing press
during that fateful night, The Standard still
managed to release an issue the following morning. Swaleh Mdoe, currently a
presenter and producer with Citizen TV, used to work at KTN and remembers the
raid well. "When I reached my office the following morning [after the raid]
there was a sense of gloom in the air and my computer was missing," Mdoe
recalls. "But I still produced and anchored the evening news as if nothing had
happened, to show that we would not be cowed into silence."
The battle for press freedom in Kenya will undoubtedly continue. As
U.S. President Barack Obama said when he visited the offices of The Standard in Nairobi months after the raid: "Press freedom
is like tending a garden, it's never done. It continually has to be nurtured
and cultivated and the citizenry has to value it. It's one of those things that
can slip away if we don't tend to it."