A report by Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa has revealed that journalists and bloggers reporting on corruption, disputed land acquisition, counterterrorism operations, and among other sensitive issues, have faced intimidation, beatings, and job loss, casting a shadow on media freedoms in Kenya.
The report titled, “‘Not Worth The Risk’: Threats To Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections,” documents abuses by government officials, police, county governors, and other government officials against the media. Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 examined government attempts to obstruct critical journalists and bloggers with legal, administrative, and informal measures, including threats, intimidation, harassment, online and phone surveillance, and in some cases, physical assaults.
“We must stem the tide of increased violence and impunity against journalists in Kenya,” said Henry Maina, regional director at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. He added that there needs to be measures to prevent aggression against and to protect at-risk journalists with thorough and timely prosecutions of all crimes committed against them.
The report says that despite receiving formal complaints from journalists, police have rarely investigated the attacks or threats. In President Uhuru Kenyatta tenure so far, there is no evidence that any security officer or public official has been held accountable for threatening, intimidating, or physically attacking a member of the media in Kenya.
Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 interviewed 92 journalists, human rights activists, bloggers, and government officials throughout Kenya and 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.
At least two died under circumstances that may have been related to their work. The groups also documented 16 incidents of direct death threats against journalists and bloggers across the country in recent years. There were 14 cases in which police arbitrarily arrested, detained, and later released journalists and bloggers without charges.
The report gives an example of Florence Wanjeri Nderu who in 2015, an unidentified assailant believed to be a government security officer physically assaulted her. Despite her detailed report to the police about the attack and the suspect, police have failed to investigate her case. “Police never bothered to visit the scene of my attack or even followed up with me to see how I was doing,” she said.
Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch asserted that 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.