Kenya police cancel summons of journalists over Westgate

Kenyan police cancelled Thursday an order summoning journalists for questioning over their reporting of looting and disarray among security forces during the massacre in the Westgate mall, an official said.

The order for two reporters and an executive from the KTN television station to appear for questioning had sparked anger from rights groups and other media.

But an Interior Ministry official late Thursday said the order had been retracted.

"After wide consultations, the summons have been cancelled," said the official, who was not authorised to speak to the media.

"The journalists and their CEO are not required to record statements anymore."

Neither police nor the reporters, Mohammed Ali and Allan Namu, could immediately be reached for comment.

Kenyan media reported widely on the ransacking of the upmarket shopping centre as soldiers battled Islamist gunmen in the siege in which at least 67 people died.

Security camera footage from the mall broadcast at the weekend showed soldiers carrying white plastic bags out of the supermarket shortly after the gunmen went on a shooting spree, executing children in the shopping aisles.

Police Inspector General David Kimaiyo had said there was "a limit" to media freedom after the reports on last month's four-day siege at the mall where Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen carried out a shooting spree.

Kimaiyo had previously warned police were looking "very closely" at the law and warned some reporters "would be apprehended and appear before the court".

George Ojuka, a senior Nairobi police commander who announced the summons, said that sections of an hour-long KTN television documentary were "grossly misinforming and inciting".

But the Law Society of Kenya said the move by police was "an attempt to interfere with the constitutional right to freedom of the media and expression", while the National Commission on Human Rights said it was "concerned".

The warning comes as parliament mulls proposed amendments to the media law that could bring in tighter restrictions on reporters.

"Kenya's robust press should not be targeted simply for airing the truth," said Tom Rhodes of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "Instead, the Kenyan police should be investigating the real criminals at Westgate, not the messengers."

-- Officers 'did not loot' --

Media reacted angrily to the summoning of the journalists, with the Daily Nation newspaper putting the warning on its front page under the headline "Intimidation".

The Standard newspaper, which has the same owners as KTN, published a cartoon that shows a journalist silenced by a giant padlock through his lip marked "press freedom", as a government official walks away with the key.

Citizen News said it was a "sad day" for Kenya's media, who are "witnessing the unacceptable return of the outdated repression of the fundamental freedoms and rights integral to the industry".

Kenya's security forces were initially praised for bravery in battling the insurgents, but were later heavily criticised after shopkeepers entering the mall after the siege said their stores had been ransacked.

Owners of a top-end jewellery store as well as others selling mobile telephones, cameras and lingerie said their stores were completely looted.

However, Kenya's army chief Julius Karangi on Tuesday insisted officers did not loot, taking drinks from the supermarket only "to quench their thirst" while other goods were taken for "sanitisation to ensure their safety".

Several business owners told AFP that they locked their premises before escaping from the mall only to find them empty when they were allowed back in after the siege ended.

However, lawmakers investigating the attack last week accused some business owners of complaining in order to get compensation from their insurers.

Somalia's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents claimed responsibility for the Westgate attack, saying it was in revenge for Kenya military action against the group in southern Somalia.

Investigations continue at the wrecked mall, where part of the rooftop carpark collapsed after a fierce fire, entombing the supermarket area where the gunmen are believed to have made their final stand.