Kenya: Reporter John Ngarichu released, but concerns remain over arrest

Kenya: Reporter John Ngarichu released, but concerns remain over arrest - Media

A local freelance photographer argues with a policeman after tear gas was fired towards a group of journalists and ODM supporters to try to prevent a rally organised by the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) in Uhuru park. The ODM were protesting against disputed election results which had kept them out of power.

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned over the recent detention of Nation Media Group (NMG)’s parliamentary affairs correspondent, John Ngarichu, regarding a published story of alleged corruption in the Interior Ministry.

Cabinet Secretary of Interior, Joseph Nkaissery, accused the journalist of publishing “private information”, and alleged that the story “exposed Kenya’s security forces to significant risk” ; he ordered the detention of Ngarichu until he revealed his sources. Other media outlets were summoned in relation to the same issue.

The journalist was released on Tuesday evening, but the arrest and subsequent statements made by the Cabinet Secretary threaten to limit legitimate discussion on matters of public concern, such as corruption. In ARTICLE 19’s most recent report on freedom of expression in Kenya, corruption was the most dangerous topic for journalists to cover, followed by protest, and security.

“A free press depends on the free flow of information from the media to the people and from the people to the media,” commented Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director, “Naturally, journalists depend on non-journalists for the supply of information on issues of public interest, including rampant corruption and impunity. These ‘sources’ often come forward with secret or sensitive information, relying upon the reporter to convey it to the people in order to expose matters of concern to the nation.”

Anonymity is often the precondition for the source’s willingness to speak because of fear of retaliation if their names are made public. Journalists have the right to protect the confidentiality of their sources, and the nature of the information passed to them in confidence. In fact, journalists in Kenya are bound, by professional ethical codes, to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.

Articles 24, 33, 34 and 35 of the Kenyan Constitution protect Kenyans’ right to freedom of expression, freeom of media, and right to information, and sets out situations where these rights may be limited. Every limitation must be provided by law (i.e. not on the whim of a public official), it must meet a legitimate aim, and must be be necessary.

National security has long been used by the government to suppress the free flow of information and ideas. National security restrictions are often impermissibly vague, or respond to statements which pose only a hypothetical risk of harm, making these restrictions ideal instruments to prevent the publication or discussion of unpopular ideas, or criticism of government.

ARTICLE 19 reiterates that the detention of journalist John Ngarichu, and Nkaissery’s statements, are unconstitutional and send a clearly threatening message to the media in the wake of several local  media articles which have reported on rampant corruption in the Kenyan government.