NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 8 – A directive by Police Commissioner Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali to divisional commanders not to talk to the press was widely criticised on Thursday, with human rights activists terming it a ‘cover up plot’.
Oscar Foundation Executive Director Kamau King’ara said the directive was “part of a wider scheme to conceal crucial information” from the public.
“It is the most unfortunate thing to happen. That all OCPDs are under instructions to shun the media is just a public relations gimmick so that they can continue committing more extra-judicial killings,” he told Capital News.
“They (police) want to hide information from the public even when that information is of great public interest. It is a sign that they fear the media because it has always exposed the ills perpetrated by the police,” Mr King’ara added.
He was responding to a confidential circular from Police headquarters sent to all Provincial Police chiefs and Officers Commanding Police Divisions (OCPDs) asking them to “tactfully avoid addressing journalists at scenes of crimes”.
The circular – seen by Capital News – suggests that the police commanders have been making statements which portray the force in bad light, particularly after fatal shootings.
“Henceforth, unprofessional conduct by police at scenes of crime should not be tolerated as it has been used to support false allegations that the Kenya Police engage in extra-judicial killings,” part of Major General Ali’s directive states.
The directive warns the OCPDs to desist from visiting scenes of crimes “unless it is extremely necessary and of public interest.”
It gives exemption to officers in charge of police stations (OCSs) who will be allowed to visit scenes of crimes “but should never address the press.”
“Police should never be casual, presumptive or in any way appear to celebrate the death of any person, whether one is a criminal or otherwise,” the directive states.
Sources at Police headquarters told Capital News that the directive was prompted by Monday’s killing of a robbery suspect in a dramatic shooting at Nairobi’s Bahati estate where witnesses claimed the man was shot after surrendering.
This contradicted the official statement made by area divisional Police chief Kipkemoi Rop who told journalists the man had been shot after a shootout with the police as he emerged from his hide-out.
Images of the shooting which showed the man emerge from a house with his hands raised in the air were screened by a local television station.
Quoting sections of the Force Standing Orders, Major General Ali ordered OCPDs to carefully select words when issuing statements to the press.
“Ali feels that OCPDs have been issuing statements that show little respect to human life because many of them appear celebrating deaths of criminals instead of following due process of the law to investigate all the deaths,” a senior officer said.
A divisional police commander based in Nairobi expressed shock when Capital News showed him the circular.
He said he had been informed about contents of the circular but had not received his copy.
“This is hilarious, why should the commissioner want to gag us yet we are gazetted officers. Something must be wrong somewhere,” the officer who did not wish to be named said.
Another officer said he would not speak to journalists from now on.
“Although the directive is only warning us to avoid visiting scenes of crimes and making statements there, I know this army man (the Commissioner) will take punitive action against anyone found speaking to journalists,” another divisional police chief said.
When contacted, Police Spokesman Erick Kiraithe however said the directive was not aimed at gagging the police commanders.
“We have nothing to hide, it is just a reminder to our officers that they must be responsible and follow the law in carrying out their day-to-day duties,” he said.