It Continues… Kenyatta’s (Suspended) Communications Staff Threatens to Sue New York Times

One of the communications staff suspended by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is now threatening to sue the New York Times (Photo: Tiksa Negeri / Reuters)

One of the communications staff suspended by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta is now threatening to sue the New York Times (Photo: Tiksa Negeri / Reuters)

The Kenya – New York Times saga continues. For those of who haven’t had a chance to follow, here’s a recap:

  • The New York Times published a scathing article and critique of the International Criminal Court’s intervention in Kenya (see here for some highlights and my thoughts on the piece). It was particularly critical of the role of former ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and the cases against senior members of the Kenyan government — cases which, as readers will know, ultimately all collapsed.
  • The office of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (who was among those charged by the ICC but eventually had his case dismissed), released a statement in which it claimed that described the New York Times’ article as “vindictive and unprofessional”. It further asserted that the author, James Verini, did not reach out to the government for its side of the story.
  • In response, the New York Times published a statement in the Kenyan media, defending its story, refusing to apologize, and insisting that the government was given every opportunity to contribute to the piece — but declined or ignored requests to do so.
  • While President Kenyatta is on an official visit to Botswana, he “suspended” four members of his communications staff, apparently as a result of their initial response to the New York Times’ piece. Dennis Itumbi, one of the suspended members of Kenyatta’s communications staff, tweeted that they “were fired because they told off a paper that claimed President Uhuru bribed witnesses.”

That brings us to today. Kenyan media is reporting that Itumbi is threatening to sue the New York Times. Itumbi, Kenyatta’s director of digital innovations and diaspora communications, was named in Verini’s account as someone who had been “investigated (though not charged)” by the ICC over alleged witness interference. In its defence of Verini’s exposé, the New York Times insisted that “Itumbi’s investigation by the International Criminal Court is a matter of public record. As Verini’s article notes, he was not charged.” Now, according The Star, Itumbi is seeking legal action against the Times:

Dennis Itumbi has given the New York Times a seven-day ultimatum for an apology over remarks in an article about the President’s ICC case…

…He asked the media house to apologise or face a defamation suit over making references to him in the article, saying he was not interviewed.

In a letter to the media house on Thursday, Itumbi’s lawyers said the “offending words” were false since their client was not interrogated on any subject.

“You did not contact our client to comment on the issue contrary to your assertions. Your publication was therefore malicious and part of your sustained policy and your self-serving vendetta,” said lawyer Moses Chelanga.

Chelanga said the publication was calculated to disparage and injure Itumbi’s reputation and cause him scandal, odium and contempt in his personal capacity.

He said the Times portrayed Itumbi as one who interfered with the ICC witnesses protection programme.

He also said the media house made it seem the former director “exposed ICC witnesses; killed, abducted and enforced disappearance of ICC witnesses; bribed ICC witnesses; interfered with administration of justice; sabotaged the situation of the Republic of Kenya in the ICC [and] is corrupt.”

The lawyer said his client’s reputation and status as a long-standing public servant have been seriously damaged.

“He has suffered considerable distress and embarrassment to himself, his career, his calling, and his family,” said Chelanga.

Itumbi asked New York Times to admit liability for the “false and malicious publication” and remove the words he found offending from the online post.

His lawyer said the apology should be published by the media house, after they approve the text.

Chelanga further said the Times will be held liable for the injury and loss Itumbi suffers. He said the amount will be communicated in due course.

It seems extremely unlikely that Itumbi will get any sort of apology from the Times. In the very same section of Verini’s piece where he describes the fact that Itumbi works in Kenyatta’s office despite being investigated (but again, never charged) by the ICC, Verini states that “Kenyatta’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this article”. In their defence of Verini’s article, the Times reiterated that it the author had consistently attempted to consult with the government on his piece: “Verini attempted on numerous occasions over the course of months to solicit comment from Kenyatta’s office through official communications channels… Throughout this process, Kenyatta’s representatives were informed of the subject of the article and did not at any point address it.” It added that scheduled meetings were canceled and that many attempts to contact government staff for comment were ignored.

One thing this ongoing controversy will do is keep allegations of witness tampering in the news — something surely to frustrate Kenyatta and other government officials who insist that there has never been witness tampering in Kenya. But how, indeed if, the New York Times responds, as well as the reaction of the government, once Kenyatta returns to Nairobi, remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

This story has involved a number of remarkable, controversial, and dramatic turns. For more, see:

A Brutally Honest Confrontation with the ICC’s Past: Thoughts on ‘The Prosecutor and the President’
A Comment In Defence of Luis Moreno-Ocampo
Kenya’s President Rips into New York Times Article Largely Favourable to Him
The New York Times Shoots Back, Won’t Apologize to Kenyatta for ICC Story
As New York Times – Kenya Controversy Continues, Kenyatta Suspends Four Staff
It Continues… Kenyatta’s (Suspended) Communications Staff Threatens to Sue New York Times

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About Mark Kersten

Mark is a researcher, consultant and teacher based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, Canada. His research focuses on the nexus of international criminal justice and conflict resolution. Specifically, Mark's work examines the politics of the International Criminal Court and the effects of its interventions on peace, justice and conflict processes.
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5 Responses to It Continues… Kenyatta’s (Suspended) Communications Staff Threatens to Sue New York Times

  1. el roam says:

    Thanks for that update Mark . One should notice :

    The issue of comments from the part of that Itumbi before publishing that article , doesn’t matter a lot . Asking comments , is an ethical obligation , yet , has got nothing to do , legally , with the duty of a journalist , to verify and check facts published by him , facts which can hurt and cause damage to one person or civil servant , facts differentiated from abstract opinions . Here in fact we deal with facts published ( according to the post ) :

    “exposed ICC witnesses; killed, abducted and enforced disappearance of ICC witnesses; bribed ICC witnesses; interfered with administration of justice; sabotaged the situation of the Republic of Kenya in the ICC [and] is corrupt.”

    End of quotation :

    As we can see or read, those are citations, and charactered by the: Verbal ( verb ) suffix: ” Ed ” means: past simple, and ,reasonable reader, should understand, that, those were actions accomplished, in the past, and the reserving word or alike: allegedly….. is gone missing!! Means , thinks done , has been done , had been done, as if : accomplished . All that :

    While not charged , not interrogated ( according to Itumbi ) so how accomplished ?? The reporter , had to verify at least , in the ICC , whether , he was suspect , or interrogated . All that , notwithstanding , the ethical obligation , to get his comment .

    Thanks

  2. el roam says:

    Just correcting it :

    should be : and characterized , and not : ” and charactered ” of course ….. in my comment above .

    Thanks

  3. And the slugfest continues! This is turning out to be way more fun than expected.

  4. Michael says:

    As a Kenyan i can tell you the article was not favourable to the president. It has him carvoting with the mungiki a feared mafia like gang. It alleges that he swore an oath of loyalty a ritual requiring him to wear raw animal hide, eat and drink raw goat meat and blood. Also there is a school of thought in Kenya which believes that the cases fail not because of LMO but inspite of the best efforts of LMO. It is deeply insulting for him to state that he served Kenyans well from the look of things he may have postphone 2013 to 2017. His worst comment is “courts overate trials” the icc was fashioned as a trial court LMO failed to recognize that other agencies existed to handle the political and social aspects surrounding impunity. In his mind the court was created to serve the prosecutor, trials and evidence were secondary issues. Unless an open acknowledgement of LMO shortcomings is made by the icc itself African nations will remain reluctant partners of the court. It is patronizing to say we joined and made refferals to the court willingly as if consent freely rendered somehow mitigates incompetence and the actions of a buffon.

  5. The Suit will be in court next week – Let the matter be argued from the podium of facts. By the way was anyone ever suspended in Kenyatta communication office? I DO NOT KNOW OF ANY.

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