NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan police on Tuesday arrested a journalist who wrote about corruption at the Interior Ministry, drawing accusations from media groups that the government was trying to trample free speech.
Reports alleging outrageous spending by civil servants has raised pressure on President Uhuru Kenyatta, who has promised to tackle rampant corruption in a country where many people still live in poverty.
Tom Mshindi, the editor-in-chief of biggest-selling Daily Nation newspaper, said senior reporter John Ngirachu was arrested on Tuesday in relation to an article questioning spending at the Interior Ministry.
“This is, in our view, intimidation,” Mshindi told Reuters. “We don’t expect this government to resort to these kinds of strong-arm tactics to try and intimidate us.”
An Interior Ministry official confirmed Ngirachu’s arrest but could not comment on details. Media reports said Ngirachu was released on Tuesday evening.
Ngirachu was interrogated by police last week over a Daily Nation article about a parliamentary report which queried why the Interior Ministry had spent 3.8 billion shillings ($37.20 million) in a single day.
Angered by the article, Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery labeled the story as “unacceptable” and said it was “calculated to harm the nation” as it portrayed his ministry as corrupt.
Mshindi said detectives wanted to know the source of the article, even though the parliamentary report was available to public.
Nkaissery said there was a well-choreographed campaign to ignite mass action against Kenyatta’s government by alleging was graft in Kenyan institutions.
“(This is) increasingly taking the shape of a larger plot of economic sabotage”, Nkaissery said, warning that anyone who spread false stories about corruption would be “held to personally account”.
Kenya’s editors guild said it was concerned about Nkaissery’s statement and the arrest of Ngirachu.
“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,” said Linus Kaikai, the chairman of Kenya Editors Guild.
Several other prominent individuals have voiced concerns about corruption in Kenya in recent days.
“As I have said many times, corruption is undermining Kenya’s future,” U.S. Ambassador Robert Godec said on Monday when discussing a U.S. trade deal with Africa. “It is destroying jobs and causing investors to take their money elsewhere.”
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.
($1 = 102.1500 Kenyan shillings)
Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Angus MacSwan