Kenyan journalist arrested after exposing officials’ role in Jubilee fundraiser

This photo of KRA Commissioner-General John Njiraini ran alongside a Nation Group story about Jubilee Party fundraising.

A Kenyan journalist was arrested shortly after publishing a story that exposed the involvement of top civil servants in Jubilee campaign fundraising. The journalist who works for the Daily Nation newspaper was held in custody for two days before charges against him were dropped.

Journalist Walter Menya was arrested Sunday, the same day that his newspaper published an article titled “Civil servants in JP foundation want to ‘alleviate poverty.” He was arraigned in court Monday and denied release on bail.

The story named three top civil servants who attended a recent invite-only event to raise funds for President’s Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election campaign. It said that the civil servants were signatories of a bank account of the Friends of Jubilee Foundation, which organized the fundraiser. If true, the involvement of these officials in campaign-fundraising could go against the constitution, which prohibits public servants from engaging in political activities.

Daily Nation’s article referred to the Friends of Jubilee Foundation as a “Jubilee Party resource mobiliser (whose) registered officials are closely associated with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election campaign.” The article questioned whether the foundation was really a “public service organization” as claimed by its consitution, where its main objectives are said to be “to alleviate poverty, improve access to education, healthcare, water, sanitation, welfare services…”

“According to documents in possession of the Nation, Kenya Revenue Authority Commissioner General John Njiraini… is a board member of the foundation as well as a signatory to FJF’s bank accounts. Also on the board is Energy Principal Secretary Joseph Njoroge. He, too, is listed as a signatory to the foundation’s accounts,” reads the newspaper article.

The foundation was registered on May 26, 2017 by the NGO Board, just two weeks before the Jubilee Party invite-only fundraising at Safari Park Hotel and Casino. Daily Nation reported that more than a billion shillings was raised at the event, at which which both Njiraini and Njoroge were in attendance, though it did not cite a source for this information.

The principal magistrate who heard the case Monday ordered that Menya be detained for one more day but police wanted the journalist to be held for three more days as they conduct more investigations. Many journalists and human rights defenders have condemned the move by police to arrest the journalist, saying it is harassment because of the story he wrote.

Walter Menya walked free on Tuesday after the Director of Public Prosecutions directed that no charges be preferred against him. One of those who questioned the arrest was State House Director of Digital Communication Dennis Itumbi who praised the chief prosecutor for dropping charges, saying that the journalist’s arrest was “obviously scripted.”

But last evening, in a television interview, the Secretary General of the president’s Jubilee party, denied that his party and the president had anything to do with the arrest. He also denied that the mentioned civil servants were the signatories on the foundation’s bank account.

This is not the first time that journalists from the same media house are finding themselves in trouble with the police. In late 2015, John Ngirachu, journalist with the Daily Nation was arrested for a story he did that highlighted questionable spending of Ksh. 3.8 billion (USD 3.6 million) within the interior ministry.

Before Mr. Ngirachu’s arrest, two other journalists, James Mbaka from The Star and Alphonse Shiundu from The Standard were summoned to appear before the police and reveal the source of a story that they did from information they came across during parliamentary proceedings.

Menya’s lawyer, James Orengo says the arrest of his client is an incidence of intimidation of journalists and the government should not be allowed to get away with it.