MCK sues state, entertainment joint over assault on scribes

Bouncers in a scuffle with police when NACADA launched a raid at the Kettle House Bar and Grill in Kilimani on January 5, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The media industry regulator has sued the state and an entertainment joint in Kilimani, Nairobi, following an assault on journalists during a crackdown on shisha joints.

Media Council of Kenya (MCK) wants the High Court to declare that security agencies ought to ensure better working conditions for journalists.

At the same time, the David Omwoyo-led council wants the court to find redress for the loss of property by journalists who were maimed by Kettle House Bar and Grill workers.

The court heard that from the incident, the police who were assisting with the raid were ill-prepared, thus putting journalists in the line of danger.

According to Omwoyo, despite journalists being messengers and key to the country’s democracy by passing information to Kenyans; they are treated as a threat by the state which pays little attention to their security.

“The petitioner also states that the security of journalists is a crucial matter that deserves to be sorted once and for all as several reports have shown journalists have been vulnerable to attacks because they are either treated as a threat by the state or failure of the first respondent to prove necessary security as required by the Constitution to ensure that Kenyans enjoy the rights enshrined under the Constitution to the maximum possible extent,” reads the papers filed in court.

The council has sued the Inspector General of Police, Attorney General and Kettle House. MCK has listed eight journalists who were assaulted in the case as interested parties.

The council asserts that the order it is seeking against the government cannot be granted in the criminal case against the 11 security guards who were charged before the Magistrate court.

Those charged were Albanus Luseno Mucheywa, Charles Otieno Opiyo, Bramuel Ngosane, Joseph Mwai Owiyo, Daniel Kaka Einyangala, Iddi Onyango Odaga, Daniel Mburu Ngugi, Antony Ndune Wanjiku, Emily Awuor, Elizabeth Malesi and Linda Chapkorir.

They denied six charges against them before Senior Principal Magistrate Gilbert Shikwe and were each released on a bond of Sh100,000 or alternative cash bail of Sh30,000.

The restaurant manager Sospeter Onyango Otieno who was also present in court, was charged with one count of selling shisha and was released on a cash bail of Sh10,000.

The security guards were charged that on January 5, 2024, they assaulted journalists Boniface Okendo of The Standard, Jane Kibira (KBC) and Nation's Boniface Elvis.

The journalists were covering the operation on shisha joints by police officers attached to the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA).

Police officers Joseph Ruto, Joel Kirimi Nyaga and Boniface Muia were injured during the operation. MCK narrated in court how a scuffle ensued at the restaurant during the anti-shisha operation.

MCK argued that freedom of the press and security of journalists is a matter of concern as the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) indicated that the rate of killing fourth estate practitioners was 87 per cent.

“Similar figures are found in the report by the Committee to Protect Journalists 2022 which concluded that 80 per cent of the people who kill journalists get away with it and are never punished,” said Omwoyo in his supporting affidavit.

The MCK boss said that the government banned the use of shisha on December 28, 2017, and following sustained crackdowns and routine inspection, shisha use had dropped until recently when joints started selling it again.

He argued that the crackdown was necessary as shisha is classified as a harmful drug.

Omwoyo regretted that during the raid, Kibira was stabbed while Lawrence Tikolo sustained rib fractures. He said journalists lost cameras and supporting equipment in a calculated attempt to ensure that the operation had no evidence from the scene.

"In as much as there were police officers at the scene of the crime who attempted to restore peace, they were ill-prepared in terms of numbers and equipment to deal with the threat of reckless bouncers who violently descended on them,” said Omwoyo.

MCK wants the court to consider the plight of journalists and order that they are entitled to adequate security during sensitive assignments.

At the same time, the council is seeking a declaration that attacks against journalists as well as inadequate security during the January 5, 2024 raid was a violation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The media regulator is also seeking for compensation of the journalists who were injured and whose equipment was destroyed.

MCK wants the court to compel the police to put in place measures and policies to assist journalists in reporting sensitive stories.

The council also wants a progress report to be submitted in court within 12 months on the security of journalists in the country.

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