- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

NAIROBI, Kenya — Heavily armed and masked police commandos smashed printing presses and seized equipment yesterday in raids on Kenya’s second-largest press member, while three reporters who wrote about official corruption were detained.

The pre-dawn action brought condemnation from the international community and concern that Kenya’s administration was becoming increasingly isolated amid massive scandals and political intrigue.

“If you want to rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it,” Internal Security Minister John Michuki said at a press conference, pointing his finger aggressively at reporters.

His comments raised the specter of more attacks against the press and a return to the repressive days under the regime of Daniel arap Moi.

Leading Kenyan journalists who have reported aggressively on corruption scandals swirling around President Mwai Kibaki said yesterday they would not be intimidated.

The Standard, which was targeted, managed to publish a special edition about the raids. Its broadcast affiliate, the Kenya Television Network (KTN), was back on the air by the afternoon.

Rival newspapers also published special editions on the crackdown, while TV networks broadcast blanket coverage.

Several thousand Kenyans marched on the offices of the Standard Group in central Nairobi in a defiant show of support.

“I think the raid came because the president is feeling threatened by all the criticism he is facing,” bookseller Yasin Khan said.

Police took three journalists from the newspaper to magistrate’s court and charged them with “publishing an alarming publication.” The charges cite a report last week that Mr. Kibaki met secretly with a key political opponent to offer him a job.

The raids marked the first time since independence in 1963 that a Kenyan government has shut down the operations of a major press member.

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi condemned the raids as “acts of thuggery that have no place in an open democratic society.” The United Nations expressed alarm and the European Union called for an investigation.

Mr. Kibaki was swept to power in 2002 on an anti-graft ticket. Three ministers have stepped down in the past month under a cloud of corruption charges, and Mr. Kibaki faces a growing clamor for further resignations.

The raids began at 1 a.m. when dozens of men carrying assault rifles, wearing gas masks and driving unmarked vehicles burst into the Standard’s printing plant and KTN’s offices, taking computers and transmission equipment, damaging the presses and setting fire to tens of thousands of copies of yesterday’s edition. Security staff also were roughed up.

“We believe this is a direct and blatant attempt to undermine the freedom of the press in this country that is guaranteed by the constitution. It is also intended to paralyze our business,” said Tom Mshindi, the chief executive officer of the Standard Group.

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