David Makali, editor of the Sunday Standard, was detained on Monday after publishing a confession by a suspect held for the murder of Crispin Odhiambo-Mbai, a political scientist who had been helping write a new Kenyan constitution.

Makali was arrested with associate editor Kwamchetsi Makokga and the Standard newspaper’s group managing director and editorial director Tom Mshindi. Mshindi and Kwamchetsi were released on Monday but must report to police daily.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Kenya Human Rights Commission also demanded Makali’s release.

“In our view these are actions of harassment intended to intimidate our editors and management,” said the Standard group’s technical director Ian Fernandez.

The Kenyan Union of Journalists said the arrests resembled intolerance of free expression seen under former President Daniel Arap Moi.

Press freedom tightened

“The KUJ is very surprised, indeed shocked, that though this government was elected on a platform of reforms, including the freedom of the press, it is reneging on all these,” said KUJ Secretary-General Ezekiel Mutua.

“Freedom of the press has limits. The work of the police has been compromised by the leakage”

Chris Murungaru, Kenya's National Security Minister

Police said Makali was being investigated for the unlawful manner in which the newspaper received a confidential police.

Mbai was killed at home on 14 September by three gunmen in an attack widely interpreted by Kenyans as a political assassination.

In the story which ran in this week’s Sunday Standard, the newspaper reports the suspect as saying he and others met an unnamed politician who hired them to kill Mbai.

The academic led a team advising a constitutional conference about curbing the authority of the central government, part of long-awaited reforms to trim sweeping presidential powers. 

“Freedom of the press has limits. The work of the police has been compromised by the leakage,” said National Security Minister Chris Murungaru, adding the police report had been stolen in connivance with some police officers.