“If you rattle a snake…” The Kenyan government bites its media

In 2006 the Kenyan police violently raided the offices and printing press of the Standard Group media organisation. What was the government afraid of seeing reported? Dominic Burbidge explores a revealing case.

In March 2006, masked men armed with AK-47s broke into the offices and printing press of the Standard Group in Nairobi, Kenya, beating journalists, taking the television station off air and setting fire to thousands of copies of the media group’s newspaper. Although the midnight raid appeared initially to have been organised by criminals, the kidnapped journalists were deposited in police stations and the police took responsibility, justifying their operation by claiming journalists were receiving payments for writing articles that incited ethnic hatred. The government announced it had acted directly against media it deemed a threat to national security. The Internal Security Minister John Michuki said, “If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it.”

But what snake did the Standard Group rattle? One freelance reporter arrested during the raid explained how the prisoners were questioned over “who owned the Standard” and “how to dismantle” the Kenya Television Network and Standard Group’s newspaper printing press. Following the raid, three journalists were charged for publishing alarming statements regarding President Mwai Kibaki but later released on bail, with the charges eventually dropped in September of the same year.

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  1. It is a great pity. Who gave the national privilege to the polices to hurt ordinary persons? Even though the these journalists encountered a viper, they still stood up and sreamed the facts out. Really admire these reporters and hope they will better.

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford. www.freespeechdebate.ox.ac.uk

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