FALSELY ACCUSED

How being tagged ‘spy with a gun’ shook innocent journalist

While doing an investigative story on a scandal that cost the country half a billion shillings, Michael Mahindi was dramatically arrested, blindfolded and detained for a crime he did not commit

In Summary

• Mahindi endured hours of misery after he was seized and taken for questioning while blindfolded 

• He was detained for days as the police went fishing for evidence where there was none

Former Kameme journalist Michael Mahindi
Former Kameme journalist Michael Mahindi
Image: SUSAN MUHINDI

Late in the evening of July 27 last year, former Kameme journalist Michael Mahindi was accosted by armed policemen in a Probox and a Ford Ranger while on his way home.

Mahindi, 35, stood accused of illegally having a firearm and posing as a National Intelligence Services officer. The potential consequences of this arrest were grave. If convicted, Mahindi could have faced up to 17 years in prison for both crimes. 

Exactly a year since the incident happened, the lobbyist and media consultant recalled the dreadful night with sadness in his eyes. He says the sense of helplessness was overwhelming, and even though time has passed, the experience is still pretty vivid in his mind.

 
 
 
 
 
 

“It was around 8.45pm. I was wearing a grey T-shirt and a grey, striped short. The Probox, which was was driven ahead of me, stopped. Three police officers came out armed with AK47s. They ordered me out of my car."

Within seconds, Mahindi says he was bungled into the Probox, handcuffed and blindfolded, and the car drove off.

"The very first thing that went through my mind was, 'This must be a mistake,'" Mahindi says. He was right. 

While in the vehicle, the officers began to ask him to reveal his phone password, but in his mind, he would wonder what wrong he had done to warrant such a dramatic arrest.

I was tensed. I could hear the sound of radio calls confirming my arrest. I just thanked God that I was in the hands of two very sound young officers who didn’t harm me, until I heard one of them saying we were headed to Namanga. Then I knew I was dead

THE INTERROGATION

After a couple of rounds in the Probox with the Ford Ranger still in sight, they made a stop at a “clean police station,” where he was questioned and asked about who he knew in government.

 
 
 
 

“They asked me if I had ever dealt with a businessman, Francis Mburu [the man at the centre of the Ruaraka land scandal], but I said no since I have never met him up to date,” he says.

 
 

The officers then proceeded to ask him whether he owned a gun. But Mahindi said no.

"In fact, I remember telling the officers that if they find any firearm in my house, they should just kill me. Because I knew I they would find nothing,” he said.

Mahindi says a new team of officers came and they later proceeded to his home. It was now 1am. This time, the blindfold had been removed and so were the cuffs. He explains he saw a cameraman, whom he thought was one of the officers only to later learn he was not.

“He filmed me and he left. It was a painful experience because I knew people were being used to harass me. It was the biggest form of bullying. Though it didn’t bother me much because I knew who was behind it,” Mahindi says.

When they arrived at his home in Kasarani, a search was conducted but no firearm was found. All they found were many documents, but they chose to dwell on some documents from KPLC (Kenya Power and Lighting Company) that he had by virtue of being a media consultant.

“I had the documents because I was meant to shed light to the media and give facts regarding the whole saga at KPLC. And it was just a summary of who got which and which tender,” he says.

The saga involved procurement of defective transformers and irregularities in prequalifying 525 companies for labour and transport contracts.

Through the two contracts — for transformers and labour and transport — Kenyans lost Sh470 million, besides the inconvenience the defective transformers have caused. Former KPLC boss Ben Chumo and others are in currently under trial over the scandal.

When the officers were done with the search, they proceeded to Kasarani police station at around 3am. Mahindi was booked and later arraigned on a Monday.

COURT ORDERS RELEASE

The newsman was accused of extorting millions of shillings from Kenyans, possessing an unlicensed gun and impersonating an NIS officer.  But Mahindi refuted claims that he ever conned people or obtained money under false pretences. The report from the officers also absolved him of any wrongdoing.

While in court, the investigating officer, Inspector Edward Kiplagat, urged the magistrate to have Mahindi detained for five days, pending investigations. The court, however, granted them three days.

When the three days were over, the IO told the court they found no evidence to link Mahindi to the accusations levelled against him.

Principal magistrate Kennedy Cheruiyot, on August 3 last year, subsequently ordered his unconditional release after a police report proved he did not hold a gun. 

Mahindi says his arrest was planned by a senior official who he had once helped in times of trouble. He declines to mention his name and go deeper into the saga but says, “Yes, my arrest was planned by a person I helped and who has been frustrated over his payment over one of the major scandals that rocked the country mid-last year. This man said he would make sure I suffer because he was not able to get to those in the high offices.”

Since his release, this is the first time Mahindi has come out publicly over his arrest and detention for a crime he did not commit.

Time, he says, partly takes away the sting, but people eventually figure out the truth. He says people with little information can form strong opinions because once the information is out there, defending yourself, clearing your name, fighting suspicion and tolerating disdain is a horrible predicament.

Asked what he learnt from the whole ordeal, Mahindi says, “It is a question that has plagued me most of my life.”

He adds that people must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive because he who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.

“I forgave my accuser but the system should not be abused by the prosecuting authorities to shirk their investigative responsibilities,” he says.

Edited by Tom Jalio