Yesterday (Tuesday 10 November), police arrested John Ngirachu, a senior reporter from the Daily Nation newspaper, in relation to an article questioning spending at the Interior Ministry, according to editor-in-chief Tom Mshindi.
An Interior Ministry official confirmed Ngirachu’s arrest but could not comment on details, and the journalist was reportedly released from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations the same evening.
The same journalist was interrogated by police last week over a Daily Nation article about a parliamentary report which queried why the Interior Ministry had spent Ksh 3.8 billion (£24.62 million) in one day.
Mshindi claims investigators wanted him to name his source, even though the parliamentary report on which the article was based was publicly available.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Maj-Gen (Rtd) Joseph Nkaissery had angrily labelled the story as “unacceptable”, saying it was “calculated to harm the nation” as it portrayed his ministry as corrupt.
* Graft is a colloquial term referring to the unlawful acquisition of public money through questionable and improper transactions with public officials.
Nkaissery said there was a well-choreographed campaign to ignite mass action against President Kenyatta’s government by alleging was graft* in Kenyan institutions.
He also warned that anyone who spread false stories about corruption would be “held to personally account”.
Yesterday’s arrest drew accusations from media groups that the government was trying to trample free speech with Kenya’s editors guild saying it was concerned both about Nkaissery’s statement and the arrest.
The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) condemned the arrest, describing it as the highest form of impunity displayed by Mr Nkaissery and a “very archaic form of running a public office”.
“It’s a perpetuation of a weird way of thinking that undermines not only public access to information but freedom of the media as provided for in the Constitution” – MCK deputy chief executive officer, Mr Victor Bwire.
The Kenya Parliamentary Journalists Association also demanded Mr Ngirachu’s immediate release, calling his arrest an infringement on media freedom.
“We also demand an apology from the police and specifically the Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery for infringing on the freedom of journalists to cover Parliament,” said a statement from the association.
A Twitter campaign was also started calling for Mr Ngirachu’s release using the hashtag #FreeNgirachu.
“If the statement is anything to go by, the arrest of journalist John Ngirachu is only the beginning of tougher times for the media and any other independent voices brave enough to raise questions on the corruption crisis that ails our country.” – Chairman of Kenya Editors Guild, Linus Kaikai
Several other prominent individuals have voiced concerns about corruption in Kenya in recent days including U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec who while discussing a trade deal between his country and Africa said: “As I have said many times, corruption is undermining Kenya’s future. It is destroying jobs and causing investors to take their money elsewhere.”
Cord leader Raila Odinga criticised the arrest and demanded that Mr Ngirachu be freed immediately, asking Senator James Orengo and lawyer Evan Mwangi to take up the case for free.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has promised to tackle the corruption, but John Githongo, who quit as Kenya’s first anti-corruption adviser in 2005 and later blew the whistle on one of the country’s biggest graft scandals, said Kenyatta has failed to get to grip with the problem.
“This is the most corrupt Kenya has been since we began measuring corruption in the ’90s,” he said.