Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Kenya probes Al Jazeera over ‘death squad’ report

December 9, 2014

Kenya on Tuesday ordered Al Jazeera to be placed under investigation and face possible charges over a report the Qatar-based TV news network aired alleging Kenyan police operate death squads that target radical Islamists.

The Kenyan government said the Al Jazeera documentary, aired on Monday, was “scandalous and unethical”. It insisted it “does not operate death squads”.

“The government has filed a formal complaint with the Media Council of Kenya, requesting them to investigate Al Jazeera for professional misconduct,” a government statement said.

“Furthermore, given the apparent capacity of the documentary to undermine the country’s security and our fight against terrorism, the government has instructed the relevant authorities to begin investigations with a view to bringing charges against those involved in the documentary,” it added.

The rare threat of charges comes a day before Kenyan lawmakers are due to debate the hardening of security laws.

Proposals include jail terms of up to three years for journalists broadcasting reports deemed to “undermine investigations or security operations relating to terrorism,” according to a draft seen by AFP.

The report by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit quoted men who claimed to be Kenyan anti-terrorist officers and who said they were involved in an assassination programme sanctioned by top police and government officials.

Britain and the United States provide funding for Kenya’s police anti-terrorism units.

One man quoted said 500 people were killed in a year.

The government hit back by saying that “Kenya does not even have that many clerics”.

The report, it said, was calculated to “create mass panic and fan religious animosity.”

Earlier this month Kenya’s interior minister and police chief were removed from their posts after Somalia’s Al-Qaeda affiliated Shebab rebels carried out massacres in the northeast of the country.

The Shebab said their cross-border attacks — including executing 64 non-Muslims in an attack on a bus followed days later by a massacre in a quarry — were fresh retaliation for Kenya’s 2011 assault on Islamist bases in Somalia and its continued role there, as well as its treatment of Muslims in the troubled port city of Mombasa.

Several Islamic preachers have been shot dead in the Muslim-majority port city of Mombasa in recent years in what their supporters and rights groups alleged were extra-judicial killings by security forces.

The government has denied such allegations, and police insist the cases are still under investigation.

The Kenyan government has been under fire since last year’s Shebab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, in which at least 67 people were killed in a siege involving just four gunmen and which lasted four days.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.