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Kenya police to question reporters on terror story

Oct. 24, 2013 - 12:21PM   |  
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NAIROBI, KENYA — Kenyan police want to question two journalists and the chief executive of their media house over an investigative TV report which suggested that four terrorists may have escaped after killing 67 people in a Nairobi mall attack last month, an official said Thursday.

The move to question the journalists has been condemned by rights groups that say it is infringing on freedom of expression.

On Thursday George Ojuka, a senior criminal investigations officer, said he left summons at the offices of the Standard Group for journalists John-Allan Namu, Mohammed Ali and company CEO Sam Shollei to report to police for questioning.

Namu and Ali prepared an investigative report that aired last Friday accompanied by closed circuit television footage that appears to show Kenya army troops looting a store in the mall. The security camera video seen by The Associated Press shows Kenyan security forces walking out of a store in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, holding plastic bags heavy with unknown items in the early days of the four-day siege. The video also shows others looking behind counters and lifting items.

The military has denied looting shops at the mall and said the officers seen in the security footage were carrying drinking water from the store.

Namu, an editor with the Standard Group’s Kenya Television Network, told The Associated Press that their documentary was well balanced and factual.

“Where we could not get definitive answers we asked questions in the story,” he said, adding that they had given the military enough time to reply to allegations and give their side of the story but they did not respond.

Namu said he thinks the police are issuing threats against journalists because the government is embarrassed about the allegation of looting by the Kenyan military “at a time the country needed them.”

Kenya police chief David Kimaiyo threatened journalists with arrest and prosecution for what he called propaganda and incitement in their reports about the Sept. 21 attack on the Westgate Mall.

“There are some things which do not need to be exposed in the media,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “Don’t think that when you are championing human rights then you are above the law to also step on the rights of others,” Kimaiyo said.

“Objective reporting, objective criticism is all welcome but we do not accept and agree on criticism that you cannot be able to account for,” he said. “These are some of things we want to give caution against.”

Kimaiyo denied suggestions that the operation to rescue victims of the attack who were trapped in the mall and to neutralize or arrest the terrorists had been bungled after the military took control of the operation. Some local media houses have reported that the change-over from police to military was uncoordinated leading to an incident of friendly fire, in which one police officer was killed. In the confusion the terrorists had time to regroup and take new positions, the reports say.

“This was all a joint concerted effort by all the security organs of the country and we were all able to agree how to conduct such kind of … operation,” Kimaiyo said.

The government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said it strongly condemns any attempt to arrest, harass or prosecute the journalists as well as any attempt to limit the right of free speech.

“It is of great concern that at a time when debilitating security challenges exist virtually in all corners of the country with terrorists and criminals killing innocent Kenyans … it is harmless journalists who are diligently pursuing their vocation who get targeted by security agents,” KNCHR said in a statement.

The police summons of Namu and Ali is the latest in a downward spiral for press freedom in Kenya, said Tom Rhodes, an official of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The police chief’s recent comments come before two impending media bills that may curtail press freedom further, he said.

He said that Kenya’s robust press should not be targeted simply for airing the truth.

The Somali Islamic extremist group al-Shabab claimed responsibly for the Westgate Mall attack, saying it was in retribution for Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia.

Local and foreign investigators have been digging through the rubble at a section of the mall, which collapsed, for evidence, and on Sunday the government said remains believed to be that of one of the mall attackers were retrieved. .

Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said in a statement that it was the fourth body that “we know from CCTV footage to be that of a terrorist. DNA and other investigations will confirm their identities.”

Four AK-47 assault rifles believed to have been used by the attackers were also recovered, Lenku said. Two top government officials have claimed the section of mall collapsed after army troops fired rocket-propelled grenades. The government has said structural engineers are investigating what caused the collapse.

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