Attacks against journalists while on duty in Kenya have increased from 53 cases reported in 2019 to 59 this year, a recent survey has revealed.
The report by Article 19 Eastern Africa said on Sunday that they documented between May 2019 and April 2020 cases of attacks, harassment, and intimidation.
“Attacks on journalists increased significantly in the first quarter of 2020 with recorded cases reaching 36, this was at the height of Coronavirus pandemic across the country,” Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director at Article 19 Eastern Africa said in a statement sent to newsrooms.
Kiai added: “Of the 36 recorded cases, 22 violations took place between March and April, barely two months following the government’s announcement of the first case of COVID 19 on March 12 in Kenya.”
According to him, this constitutes 37 percent of the total violations during the monitoring period.
“These attacks were carried out by security agents, government officials, and organized mobs - including primary school pupils in a manner that clearly demonstrates a sustained effort to stifle and control the press and limit the free flow of information in 22 Counties,” Kiai said.
According to the report, Nairobi recorded the highest violations with 13 incidents, followed by Mombasa with six and Turkana witnessing four cases. Other 19 counties recorded between one and three cases each.
As the journalists around the globe mark the World Press Freedom Day under the theme of Journalism Without Fear and Favour, the lobby pointed out reporting about the coronavirus health crisis, corruption and the 2022 succession politics as the most sensitive stories for journalists to cover in 2020 in Kenya.
The regional director also observed that attacks at the county levels continued to increase as journalists have been denied access to information or news venues to provide objective and critical reporting on the counties’ development progress and their response preparedness to the pandemic and the shaping of local politics.
“An independent media is crucial for Kenya’s ability to achieve her development agenda including the efforts to contain the raging pandemic and its watchdog role of ensuring that those in power are being held to account,” Kiai noted adding that a free press cannot thrive in an environment in which journalists are constantly under severe and constant attack:
“This undermines freedom of expression and democracy in the country,” he held.
The lobbyist noted that despite filing complaints with the police, cases of attacks and threats against journalists are rarely investigated.
For instance, of the 59 violations recorded by Article 19, only one case involving a non-state actor has been investigated with the perpetrators subsequently being taken to court.
This is a mere one percent rate of effective investigation suggesting a high level of impunity regarding attacks on journalists.
“Failure to bring those responsible for attacks on journalists to account sends the signal that the media can be silenced through violence and will ultimately lead to many journalists resorting to self-censorship, hampering the realisation of the right to free expression. The government must take the necessary steps to ensure that journalists are free to carry out their work,” Mugambi said.
The activists have called on the government to uphold freedom of the media and to end attacks on journalists carrying out their work.
“The government must work to create an enabling environment for journalists to carry out their duties, without the threat of attack or criminalisation,” said the Article 19 leader.