Rights groups put Kenya govt on the spot over rising attacks on journalists

Wednesday May 31 2017

Kenyan journalists demonstrate for press freedom. A new report written jointly by the Human Rights Watch and Article 19 notes that threats against journalists have increased to levels not seen in the past decade. PHOTO | FILE

The media in Kenya is increasingly finding it difficult to conduct its operations due to rising threats from government.

A new report written jointly by the Human Rights Watch and Article 19, which monitors threats to free expression across the globe notes that Kenyan authorities have committed a range of abuses against journalists reporting on sensitive issues.

The groups note that threats against journalists have increased to levels not seen in the past decade, a factor that is critical at a time the country is preparing for general elections slated for August.

“Journalists and bloggers reporting on corruption, disputed land acquisitions, counterterrorism operations and the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence, among other sensitive issues, have faced intimidation, beatings, and job losses,” the report notes.


Titled Not Worth The Risk: Threats To Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections, the 53-page report catalogues abuses by government officials, police, county governors and government officials against the media.


“For Kenya’s August elections to be credible and fair, the media needs to be able to report on pressing issues of national interest without fear of reprisals, ”said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "President Uhuru Kenyatta should publicly underscore the importance of free expression and condemn threats and attacks on journalists and bloggers."

Investigations were conducted over a period of four months involving interviews with 92 journalists, human rights activists, bloggers and government officials in Kenya.

The groups list 17 incidents in which 23 journalists and bloggers were physically assaulted between 2013 and 2017 by government officials or their allies.

At least two journalists have died under circumstances that may have been related to their work.

Death threats

The groups also documented 16 incidents of direct death threats against journalists and bloggers across the country in recent years, and cases in which police arbitrarily arrested, detained and later released without charge at least 14 journalists and bloggers.

For example on September 7, 2016, unidentified assailants forced themselves into the house of a photojournalist, Denis Otieno in the town of Kitale in Kenya's Rift Valley and demanded photos on his camera, then shot him dead.

Mr Otieno had photographed police officers shooting and killing a motorcycle taxi rider at a Kitale bus station days earlier.

A family member said that before his murder, Mr Otieno had expressed alarm about death threats.

No one has been arrested in relation to his killing.

“We must stem the tide of increased violence and impunity against journalists in Kenya. No policy to address the situation can be successful if measures to prevent aggression against and to protect journalists are not accompanied with thorough and timely prosecutions of all crimes committed against them,” said Henry Maina, regional director at Article 19 Eastern Africa.