Freedom of the press is once again under attack in Kenya. On June 18th, 2006 the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Martha Karua wrote to the Daily Nation and Gado, threatening to sue over a cartoon (above) published in the Nation on the same day. According to her, the cartoon "repeats the falsehood peddled by your sister station N.T.V. [and] is not only baseless but malicious and calculated to injure my reputation, credit and standing of a Minister of Justice, lawyer and politician." This is the second time she is threatening to take legal action against GADO and the third time she has taken exception to cartoonists' portrayal of her.
On 9th February, 2006 her lawyers S.W. Ndirangu and company wrote to GADO and the Nation regarding the above cartoon which she "interpreted to represent a press conference held by her and her colleagues"(this is despite the fact that nowhere in the cartoon does GADO identify the female character in his cartoon as Karua. Even if he did, surely the cartoon is satirical and not meant to be taken literally). The letter goes on to say that the cartoon is "deliberately misleading" and threatens legal redress if GADO and the Nation do not "adhere to the rules of accuracy and fairness in reporting".
Previously, on 25th April 2004, she had written to The Standard complaining about the above caricature which had been published in the weekly satirical pullout Penknife. In the letter, Karua contends that the humorous caricature depicted her as “unfair to the media, which is unfair and derogatory to me.”
“You show me as I confront the media, I am standing on live wire with 10,000 degrees centigrade hot (sic),” she complains. “This caricature is not only derogatory and intended to injure my credit and reputation, but is also intended to trash my right to pursue legal redress. It is an aggravation of the various libelous matters I am pursuing you for in court, and constitutes fresh libel,” says the Gichugu MP. The minister also took issue with the headline, ‘Boiling Hot,’ and claimed that suggestions in the Penknife that she has teamed “up with my colleague the honourable Minister for Information to muzzle the press when the truth of the matter is that I am pursuing my rights in court” are “false and malicious.”
KATUNI has written to the minister expressing our grave concern over the threats. While we acknowledge her right to pursue legal action, it is our opinion that the threats are an attempt to intimidate and muzzle cartoonists and the press in general. The Media Council of Kenya has mechanisms for sorting out allegations of press misconduct and we urge Ms. Karua to address her complaints there.
Cartoonists Rights Network, International (to which KATUNI is affiliated) has also written to the minister reminding her that Kenya is a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights which guarantees the freedoms of speech and expression and that an editorial cartoonist's job is to "provoke commentary dialogue and opinions. They do not report facts; they are commentators, an integral part of the balance of power between a government and its citizens in any democracy."
KATUNI urges all who believe in the virtues of a free press to write to Ms. Karua and register their objections to her behaviour.