Bwire: Attacks against journalists must stop

Bwire: Attacks against journalists must stop

That the lives and working environment for journalists in Kenya is becoming dangerous and life threatening is becoming a reality.

A few years ago, the only substantive people that threatened journalists in their line of duty were security agencies, who could either arrest the journalists or confiscate equipment.

That has changed and the level threats against journalists have increased big time. And this is violation of the rights of journalists including impeding freedom of expression, independent media, right to access information, right to earn a living and a right to life.

The killers of journalists Francis Nyaruri in Kisii and John Kituyi of Eldoret are yet to be apprehended.

Only this year, both the Freedom House and Reporters without Borders global reports on press freedom noted that Kenya had dropped in its rankings.

So far, there have only been two convictions in cases relating to journalists; the case of Vincent Makori and Wallace Gachere from the many cases documented and reported to various police stations; hopefully the DPP and DCI, will intervene, given the current worrying situation. The Media Council of Kenya has severally raised the matter.

With devolution and decentralization of resources, and a more demanding public for accountability on the use of those resources, the media has been exposing a number of scandals, public interest issues and naming suspects involved in various criminal activities including corruption across the country.

And for that, and related political tensions and mere lack of respect for law, a number of those culprits have with impunity, taken the law into their hands and become a big threat to independent media and professionalism journalism.

The kidnapping and resultant injuries sustained as a result of jumping out of a moving vehicle by Daily Nation journalist Barrack Odour in Migori and Homa Bay Counties on Monday September 3, 2018, is the latest in a wave of attacks against journalists in the country in most recent times.

Just last month, Nation Media Group journalists Karim Rajan, Laban Walloga and Winnie Atieno were assaulted and locked up in Bamburi Police Station Mombasa, while covering a story on land grabbing.

Additionally, freelance journalist Basil Okoth based in Migori, who broke the Migori story has also reported receiving threats since Tuesday September 4th.

So far, Migori has had nearly 10 cases of journalists’ harassment including the violent closure of a radio station — Onagi FM — because of political hostilities and barring journalists from accessing the Migori County Assembly.

The same August, Dennis Kabiru, a journalist in Murang’a County was assaulted by directors of Elite Schools, Ndungu Gachane roughed by the Administration Police in Murang’a, in a war pitting Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria and Murang’a Water and Sewerage Company and Royal Media Services Victor, based in Muranga has reported harassment cases by the Governor to the Media Council of Kenya.

Garissa County based journalists have also reported threats, mainly from the County Government leadership.

Machakos based journalists had one time to write to the Media Council of Kenya a petition complaining harassment by the political leadership in the country, while the CEC for Tourism in Kisumu County, was forced to apologise to the journalists fraternity about complaints against mishandling of journalists in the region.

While, the physical threats continue, a number of journalists including Paul Wafula of the Standard, John Kamau of the Nation, Roselyne Obala of the Standard, among others have faced seriously online threats because of their work through online trolling.

Other journalists attacked in the recent past include Rashid Ronald, (KTN), Ouko Okusah (NTV), Doreen Magak (NTV), Rushdie Oudia (Daily Nation), and Faith Matete (Star) in Kisumu and Basil Okoth (Milambo FM) in Migori.

In addition, goons attacked Samwel Owino and Andrew Ochieng (Nation Media Group), Jane Gatwiri (NTV) and Francis Gachuri (Citizen TV) in Nairobi, Lydiah Ngoolo in Mwingi, Felix Ayieta-Migori,Berely Gwasi, Evans Olouch, Margaret Matunda, Linet Wafua, Shaban Makokha, Evans Habil, Simon Achieno, Crispin Sichere, Duncan Khaemba among others.

During the 2017 campaigning, electoral and post-electoral period — April to October 2017–  incidences of threats, intimidation, attacks and harassment against journalists and media houses were documented by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) as well as civil society organizations.

Article 19 recorded a total of 41 cases of violations against journalists during the two month period of elections. The National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya (NCHRD-K), during the period April to November 2017, documented 52 cases of human rights defenders inclusive of journalists and media houses that underwent threats, harassment and intimidation.

KNCHR documented violence against journalists as well as raised concern on the trend in curtailing the freedom of expression ahead of the General Election and in an unpublished report, the Media Council of Kenya documented 29 cases of threats and harassment against journalists and media houses between April and October 2017.

Throughout this period, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Special Procedures and other parts of the UN have joined MCK, KUJ, KEG, KNCHR and other Kenyan actors to raise concerns with the Kenya authorities, provide advice and urge respect for media freedoms.

The Government of Kenya when appearing before the UN Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2015, committed to strengthening respect for media freedom including create an enabling environment for journalists and bloggers, review the criminal treatment of freedom of expression offences, especially with regard to the protection of journalists, investigate all attacks on journalists, guarantee freedom of expression, press, associations and peaceful assembly of journalists, activists and participants in demonstrations, take all the necessary measures to bring to an end attacks on journalists and abolish criminal sanctions for media offences among others.

Since 2015, there have been some landmark court decisions addressing recommendations on criminalizing defamation. However, there has been limited progress with regard to many other recommendations, despite the existence of a strong regulatory framework founded on the Constitution which provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media as well as the state obligations to respect, protect and promote human rights.

There are provisions relating to press freedom as well as the right to life, personal liberty and integrity, freedom from torture, freedom of expression, and the right to an effective remedy which are incorporated within international human rights law instruments, regional instruments and national legislation and provide journalists with the necessary guarantees against violations of their rights and risks to their safety.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees individuals against arbitrary deprivation of the right to life (Article 4) establishes an absolute prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 5), guarantees the right to liberty and security of the person (Article 6), and freedom of expression (Article 9).

At the UN level, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that “State parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression.

In 1997, UNESCO Member States passed Resolution 29 on “Condemnation of violence against journalists”. UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns attacks against journalists in conflict situations.

The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, from 2012, which “recommends working in cooperation with governments, media houses, professional associations and NGOS to conduct awareness raising campaigns on a wide range of issues such as existing international instruments and conventions, the growing dangers posed by emerging threats to media professionals, including non-state actors, as well as various existing practical guides on the safety of journalists”.

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