Report accuses Kenya government of abetting abuse of journalists

A newly released report has accused the Kenyan government of failing to fulfill its obligations to protect freedom of expression and media freedoms.

The report by Human Rights Watch and Article 19 says state-orchestrated intimidation of journalists is symptomatic of risks and challenges that journalists have faced since President Uhuru Kenyatta came to power in April 2013.

“Kenyan officials have responded to critical press coverage with harassment, threats, criminal charges, withholding of advertising revenue and even violence against journalists and media outlets,” says the report, ‘Not Worth The Risk: Threats To Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections’.

The two groups carried out four months of research and interviews with journalists, editors, bloggers, human rights activists, and government officials throughout Kenya.

It says the government has attempted to obstruct critical journalists with legal, administrative, and informal measures, including threats, intimidation, harassment, online and phone surveillance, and in some cases, physical assaults.

“Despite receiving formal complaints from journalists, police have rarely investigated the attacks or threats,” claims the report. “There is no evidence that any state actor has in the past five years been held accountable for threatening, intimidating, or physically attacking a journalist or blogger in Kenya.”

“No policy to address the situation can be successful if measures to prevent aggression against and to protect at-risk journalists are not accompanied with thorough and timely prosecutions of all crimes committed against them,” said Henry Maina, the regional director for Article 19.

Intimidation of journalists

The report says that the authorities have intimidated journalists by asking for the sacking of some and withdrawing or withholding advertising revenue.

“Whenever we write articles critical of security agencies or exposing corruption in the government, our reporters receive death threats from security and other government officials. This is usually followed up with withdrawal of government advertising or withholding of revenue from advertising. We now have to assess carefully whether such stories are worth the cost,” an editor from one of the local media houses told the researchers.

The report documented 17 incidents in which 23 journalists and bloggers were physically assaulted between 2013 and 2017, by government officials or individuals believed to be aligned with government officials.

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

This report comes out at a critical time when Kenyans are preparing to go to the elections on August 8th. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) have just cleared eight candidates to run for president.

“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 Kenyatta should publicly underscore the importance of free expression and condemn threats and attacks on journalists and bloggers.”

The incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta will be defending his seat, alongside his running mate, Deputy President William Ruto. His main contender will be Raila Odinga, with his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka.

The authors of the report say the government should respect and uphold its obligations under international human rights law, and voters’ right to receive and obtain information at this critical time.

By the time of filing this report, no state agency had responded to the contents of the HRW report.


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