A new report by Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa has raised an alarm about the abuse of journalists reporting on sensitive issues and threats to freedom of expression by Kenyan authorities ahead of the elections slated for August this year. The 53-page report, ‘Not Worth the Risk: Threats to Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections,’ says “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”.
The report is based on four months of research and interviews with human rights activists, government officials, journalists, bloggers and editors throughout Kenya. It documents 17 separate incidents in which 23 journalists and bloggers were physically assaulted between 2013 and 2017 by government officials or individuals believed to be aligned to government officials. 16 incidents of direct death threats against journalists and bloggers, and 14 cases of arbitrary arrest were recorded in the same period.
A Nairobi-based editor interviewed by the Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 said: “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.”
In a statement issued today, Mr Henry Maina the regional director at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa said, “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 at-risk journalists are not accompanied with thorough and timely prosecutions of all crimes committed against them.”
Both Kenyan and foreign media have faced reprisals for critical reporting on sensitive topics like land, corruption, terrorism, security, political parties and county governance. In 2015, the report notes, Kenyan authorities threatened to ban two foreign journalists for reporting on alleged police death squads implicated in extrajudicial killings.
The report calls on the Kenyan government to publicly condemn physical attacks, killings, threats, harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests of journalists and bloggers. It asks for a directive to the inspector general of police to ensure prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigation of the violations, and calls for the police to investigate the reported cases in order to appropriately discipline or prosecute those responsible.
Despite receiving formal complaints from journalists, police have rarely investigated attacks or threats to the media. The report details a 2015 case in which an unidentified assailant believed to be a government security officer physically assaulted Ms Florence Wanjeri Nderu, a human rights and anti-corruption blogger. Although her case was reported to the police, it was never investigated.
Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 say timely and thorough investigations and prosecutions for such attacks are crucial in ensuring that the media report freely on issues ahead of the 2017 elections.
For the full report visit the Human Rights Watch website.