Police boss David Kimaiyo on Wednesday announced that journalists will be arrested and prosecuted over their coverage of the Westgate rescue operation.
He accused the journalists of “provoking propaganda” and inciting Kenyans against the authorities with investigative stories which exposed command confusion during the operation which saw at least one police officer shot and killed by the Kenya Defence Forces.
Journalists, both local and international, have also reported the apparent looting of the shopping mall by the KDF. The military however told Parliament that the soldiers were carrying water in the shopping bags and not looted goods. (VIDEO: Military: KDF soldiers carried water from Westgate)
The Inspector-General’s announcement is the latest in a sustained assault on press freedom in Kenya in recent months, which has seen the tabling in Parliament of bills giving government control over media operations.
Mr Kimaiyo said investigative journalists from KTN are among those to be arrested.
He appeared to take umbrage at the insinuation that he was relieved of command during the operation against terrorists who massacred nearly 70 shoppers at the mall located in Westlands.
At the time, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that Mr Kimaiyo remained in charge of the operation.
However, from around 5pm on Saturday September 21 until the end of the siege four days later, the operation was controlled by the military. KDF does not take orders from the police.
Mr Kimaiyo’s decision to muzzle the press flies in the face of the constitution which prohibits the government from interfering with the media.
Mr Kimaiyo has not filed a complaint with the Media Council of Kenya, the normal procedure for dealing with cases where journalists are involved in unethical conduct.
At the press conference on Wednesday, Mr Kimaiyo said the journalists had “overstepped” press freedom apparently by reporting the command chaos and looting during the operation.
“You cannot provoke propaganda and incite Kenyans against the authorities. The two journalists will be apprehended,” explained Mr Kimaiyo.
In Parliament, Majority Leader Aden Duale has published a Bill which gives the cabinet secretary for communication immense powers over the Media Council, which regulates the media.
The cabinet secretary has, among others powers, the right to dissolve the current Media Council and then constitute the selection panel that will interview and nominate members to form part of the new council.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Mr Kimaiyo denied that British terrorist Samantha Lewthwaite was involved in the Westgate attack.
Ms Lewthwaite is a high ranking and dangerous member of al Shabaab who has explicably been allowed to live and move freely in Kenya until relatively recently.
In one egregious act of police incompetence, officers bizarrely did not take Ms Lewthwaite into custody even though they found her with stacks of foreign currency and forged papers.
Mr Kimaiyo said yesterday that eight of what he claimed to be chief suspects will be charged.
Police arrested more than 100 suspects after the attack, almost all of whom were innocent.
He said detectives were looking for more suspects who may have played smaller roles in the attack.
But even as he made the announcements, it was still not clear how many terrorists took part in the attack and what eventually happened to them.
There have been claims that some were killed, but no bodies were ever produced. The government said there were between 10 and 15 attackers. CCTV footage showed only four.
There are suspicions that four bodies recently found in the ruins of the mall were terrorists, but that is still to be proved.
Explaining the command chaos in the operation, Mr Kimaiyo claimed that he was consulted about the rescue mission.
“It was a joint effort, and we clearly agreed on how to conduct it,” Mr Kimaiyo claimed.
Turning his guns on the media, the Inspector-General said: “We know very well that every person or organisation has the right to freedom of expression, but this freedom does not extend to advocacy of hatred or propaganda. Again, in the exercise of such rights, people should respect the reputation and rights of others.”
Mr Kimaiyo has had a slow start on the job, characterised by widely publicised fights with Police Service Commission boss Johnston Kavuludi.
Mr Kavuludi was involved in a dramatic incident earlier in the year when a human head was delivered to his office.