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Tabloid editor jailed for a year because unable to pay libel damages ordered by court

Published on Wednesday 7 March 2007.
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Reporters Without Borders condemned the one-year prison sentence imposed yesterday on Mburu Muchoki, the editor of the tabloid weekly The Independent, for libelling the justice minister and called on the government to amend the laws so that judges in future can pass fairer sentences for press offences.

“Jailing a journalist for allegedly defaming a government minister is unfair and disproportionate, and does not redress the offence,” the press freedom organisation said. “The severity of the sentence in this case adds to the sense of injustice. To deal with this problem, the government must set about amending its defamation law and in the meantime should release Muchoki.”

Muchoki, whose newspaper is known for its sensationalist coverage, was convicted of libelling justice and constitutional affairs minister Martha Karua in a 2004 story headlined “Karua’s father in abortion scandal.” The Nairobi court ordered him to pay 500,000 shillings (5,500 euros) in damages or go to prison for one year.

His lawyer, Nelson Oundu, claimed that the outcome of the trial was influenced by the fact that the presiding judge, Teresia Ngugi, is a close friend of the justice minister. Oundi has decided to appeal, but in the meantime Muchoki has been incarcerated in a prison in Nairobi’s industrial zone because he is unable to pay the 500,000 shillings.

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