Kenyan journalists, fearing arrest, camp out in the newsroom

Thursday February 1 2018

NTV Kenya managing editor Linus Kaikai (left).

NTV Kenya managing editor Linus Kaikai (left) with some of his lawyers at Nation Centre in Nairobi on January 31, 2018. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG 

By REUTERS
More by this Author

Three Kenyan journalists said on Thursday they spent the night in their newsroom in fear of arrest, watching plainclothes policemen camped outside, and that their lawyers would file court petitions in the morning seeking to ensure their freedom.

Their station, NTV, was one of three independently owned stations shut down by Kenyan authorities on Tuesday after they broadcast live coverage of an opposition ceremony symbolically “swearing in” opposition leader Raila Odinga.

“We were doing our job, we had the right to do this, and if I was to do it again, I’d do it the same way,” NTV senior anchor and reporter Ken Mijungu told Reuters after an anxious night spent conferring with lawyers and wondering if police would appear with arrest warrants.

He said his colleagues, Larry Madowo and Linus Kaikai, had all been independently warned by security sources on Wednesday that their arrest was imminent.

NTV journalists Ken Mijungu (left) and Larry

NTV journalists Ken Mijungu (left) and Larry Madowo. PHOTOS | COURTESY

In the early evening, when men they believed were plainclothes police appeared outside their office building, they were advised by the station’s management to stay inside.

By morning, the men were still in their newsroom.

“Our head of security said he has reason to believe they have gone for reinforcements,” said Mr Madowo, 30, who was producing coverage on Tuesday before authorities took NTV off air.

Shocking move

In African states with entrenched rulers such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon, governments have asked telecommunications companies to block social media, mainly during elections and protests.

But the shutdown of TV stations in Kenya came as a shock to journalists used to operating freely.

“This is clearly a slide to dictatorship. It’s a return to a repressive period we had forgotten about,” said Mr Madowo. “We are becoming another African country with these kinds of issues.”

Mr Kaikai, who is also chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild, said editors had been warned by authorities that they could be shut down if they covered the event.

The stations would stay off air indefinitely, the government said on Wednesday, as it investigates the symbolic oath by Mr Odinga, directly challenging President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Interior Minister Fred Matiang'i accused media organisations of facilitating the “illegal act”, which he said put the lives of thousands of Kenyans at risk.

“This is a gross abuse of the law and complete disregard for the constitution,” said Mr Mijungu.

Also on Wednesday, police arrested Tom Kajwang, an opposition lawmaker who administered Odinga’s “oath”. He was expected to be charged on Thursday with administering an unlawful oath, a security source told Reuters.