Attack on journalists, county officials by GSU men sparks outrage

Monday April 20 2015

GALGALO BOCHA
By GALGALO BOCHA
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Two journalists and three Tana River County officials are nursing serious injuries at a hospital following a beating by General Service Unit (GSU) officers at a government ranch.

The journalists were pursuing a story on the fate of some 200 head of cattle being detained by the officers at Galana Agricultural Development Corporation ranch over alleged trespass.

The ranch is located in Kulalu, on the border of Kilifi and Tana River counties.

The team could have suffered a worse fate had the officers’ commander not intervened in time to stop the beating on Saturday.

“You are lucky to be alive. We would have killed you. You have come here to put us into trouble,’’ Mr Nehemiah Okwembah of the Nation recalls hearing one angry officers say as the reporters retreated following the intervention by their boss.

The other victims were Citizen TV’s Reuben Ogachi; Mr Abaroba Barisa, the political adviser to Tana River Governor Hussein Dado; Mr Koshe Elema, a driver; and Communications Officer Ali Wario.

The GSU officers also damaged the journalists’ television cameras.

The team visited the ranch after locals complained of harassment and beatings by the officers, with some accusing the GSU men of demanding Sh500 for every animal before releasing them to the owners.

Governor Dado and his Kilifi counterpart, Amason Kingi, condemned the attack and demanded disciplinary action against the officers.

Mr Kingi said local leaders would want to know the motive of the attack and at whose behest the GSU men were acting.

“Farmers living around there and herders from the other side (Tana River) are living in fear of those GSU men.

“That is why we want to unravel the mystery that is this project, which, instead of being a blessing to the community, has become a curse,’’ Mr Kingi said from Kilifi.

VISIT RANCH

He said he would visit the ranch next week to establish what was going on there.

The Editors’ Guild and the Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) termed the attack unwarranted and said the officers must be punished for their actions.

“We appeal to the police leadership to reorient themselves and their rank and file with the times and realise that the primitive behaviour exhibited by its GSU unit in Galana has no place in our increasingly civilised environment,’’ said Editors Guild Chairman Linus Kakai.

He asked ICT Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to change the increasingly intense anti-media tone in the government that he said might well have informed the attitude displayed by the GSU in Galana.

KCA chairman Oloo Janak expressed concern about rising cases of attacks on journalists by security officers across the country.

“It is unacceptable and an act of impunity for security officers to deliberately attack unarmed journalists doing their legitimate duty to inform the world about what evidently was another violation of the rights of Kenyans,” Mr Janak said in a statement.

According to Mr Okwemba, the officers pounced on them as they alighted from their vehicle and started beating them with batons and gun butts as others shot in the air for about 15 minutes and only stopped when their commander intervened.