Workers and security guards at the construction site of a hotel that has encroached on a public beach yesterday roughed up journalists, causing uproar and condemnation as questions emerged on the ownership of the property.
Nation Media Group journalists, Laban Walloga and Karim Rajan, were arrested and booked at Bamburi Police Station on orders of what a senior police officer said was a top government official. They were released later in the evening after complaints by human and media rights organisations.
The Nation was last evening trying to piece together ownership of the property formerly known as Dolphin Hotel, located near Pride Inn Flamingo Resort in Shanzu, Mombasa. The hotel has previously been linked to Deputy President William Ruto, but his spokesman David Mugonyi declined to comment on the matter. Mr Ruto was also not available for comment.
The Nation found an excavator reclaiming part of the beach as construction continued a few metres away. Security personnel at the site, however, forced Mr Karim, a videographer at NTV, to erase all his footage before bundling the two into a car and driving them away to Bamburi Police Station.
Human rights activists and residents have for months raised alarm over the encroachment, saying it has blocked the public from accessing the beach. “We now have to walk in water during high tide," said a resident who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. "Why this impunity by a developer who appears untouchable?"
In 2016 the county government of Mombasa stopped the construction after neighbours complained that the contractor was dumping debris on a public road. Yesterday, the Nation witnessed an excavator filling part of the beach where the hotel stands, in contravention of the law regarding use of public beaches and the distance required between the beach and private properties.
Mr Rajan said the Bamburi Police Station boss, in consultation of county commander Johnston Ipara, told the contractor that he could not continue holding them as unless he lodged an official complaint against them.
Mr Walloga, who was handcuffed by the officers who arrested him and his colleague, said he was ordered to delete any images he had taken. He refused and was roughed up.
Nation Media Group Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi welcomed the release of the journalists, but cautioned that it was unfair for journalists to be arrested while going about their normal duties.
The Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) called for arrest of people involved in the assault of the two journalists. In a statement, KEG chairman Churchill Otieno said the attack was unconstitutional and an impediment to press freedom, "which provides that every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom to seek, receive or import information or ideas”.
“Journalists in Kenya and the East African region at large should be allowed to do their work without the fear of being harassed and intimidated by authorities,” he said
The arrest attracted sharp criticism across the country, with many calling for the prosecution of those who ordered and executed the assault and detention. Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Erick Oduor condemned the act and called for thorough investigations and prosecution of those behind the attack. Mr Oduor called on the Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet to investigate the attack, as well as make public the ownership of the hotel.
Haki Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid condemned the attack, saying the journalists ought not to have been arrested and assaulted as they were on official duty and on a public beach. Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Programmes Manager at the Media Council of Kenya, Mr Victor Bwire, also condemned the arrests, terming them a threat to media freedom.
The International Centre for Policy and Conflict executive director Ndung'u Wainaina termed the detention "abhorrent and repugnant", urging quick and transparent investigations.