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Readers Confused As Police Seize Newspapers

By Ogova Ondego, The Nation (Nairobi), 20 May 2001

Nairobi was thrown into uncertainty as people failed to get their daily newspapers after they were impounded by a contingent of police officers and City Council askaris yesterday.

Most city centre newsstands were empty as the newspapers and magazines they sell had been taken away.

Samuel Maina, the national secretary of the Newspaper Vendors Association of Kenya, said the publications were being impounded without any explanation being proffered and that business licenses issued by the City Council were being torn by the officers.

Maina, who operates on Moi Avenue, said he would hold a Press Conference at Chester House.

"What is the use of paying for a license which is not recognised by the police?" the visibly angry Maina posed.

Any news vendor who protested without running away was being apprehended, he said.

Peter Uhuru, a sweets and newspaper seller on Tom Mboya said the askaris had said they would charge the newspapers vendors not with operating an unlicensed business but obstruction which makes it impossible for pedestrians to use the pavements.

Margaret Wayua, another vendor who said she had lost many newspapers and magazines, said the police had said they are getting thugs off the streets as they harbour elements who pretend to be engaged in legal business but who are otherwise criminals. "Wanasema kuna ukora mwingi hapa njiani," she said adding that she is helpless and appealing to the media groups to assist them recover their publications.

Outside Hotel Ambassadeur, a crestfallen Charles Oduor said all his newspapers and magazines had been impounded despite being licensed to sell them. "Now I have no money with which to get tomorrow's newspapers. They have even taken away the newspapers of yesterday which I was planning to return as I get tomorrow's papers. Why is the government crippling us while claiming to be fighting poverty?"

He said he could not follow the police to demand the return of their papers as he risked being arrested.

Jacob Mula, who said he had lost newspapers last month to police on State House Road, appealed to the government to intervene and save him as he can no longer sell newspapers having no capital.

Although Victor Odoyo he is licensed by the City Council and allowed to sell newspapers and magazines outside HornBill restaurant, he said he has lost many publications to police and city council askaris. "Whenever they confiscate newspapers, you can never get them as they claim they were kept in a store where they got lost."

Eric Olem said it is not right for the police to confiscate people's newspapers without arresting them as this is tantamount to robbery. "If I am doing anything illegal, I should be arrested alongside with it so it may be used as a court exhibit against me. Unless this is done, nothing can prevent me from believing that the government has sinister motives against us," he said bitterly.

Most streets in the City Centre-including Kimathi Street-had no newspapers yesterday. Even shoe shiners and vendors of other commodities kept away for fear of arrest.