Police holds back Kenyan journalists, groups condemn arrests

Three Kenyan journalists have been held without charge for a story that alleged President Mwai Kibaki met secretly with a key opponent, the Kenya Union of Journalists said Wednesday.

The detentions which have been condemned by the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists came days after Kibaki and former environment minister-now-turned Kibaki foe Kalonzo Musyoka denied the meeting took place.

On Tuesday, police summoned Saturday Standard Managing Editor Chacha Mwita, News Editor Dennis Onyango and Reporter Ayub Savula and questioned them about the story published Saturday, said Ezekiel Mutua, secretary general of the Kenya Union of Journalists.

The journalists remain in police custody.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

No one has made a formal complaint against the paper and no charges were filed against the journalists, said Tom Mshindi, the chief executive officer of The Standard Group.

"This to us is just harassment by the government," he said.

In its latest edition, The Saturday Standard, quoting unnamed sources, alleged that Musyoka, who served in Kibaki's Cabinet for more than two years until he was fired in November, had expressed an interest in rejoining the government as vice president.

Musyoka was one of seven ministers fired for campaigning against a draft constitution that Kibaki backed, but which Kenyans voted down in a November referendum. The loss was seen as voter reaction to corruption scandals that have bedeviled Kibaki's administration.

In recent months, Kibaki's office has complained several times about reporting in The Standard, accusing the newspaper of fabricating stories.

Mutua said in a statement that the arrests are part of a wider scheme to undermine press freedom and are directed at The Standard because of its critical stance against the governing National Rainbow Coalition party.

On Feb. 22, police filed criminal charges against three Kenyan journalists and a Kenyan publisher of a weekly newspaper, accusing them of publishing a false rumor in a report that alleged Kibaki may be senile, reports the AP.

D.M.

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