Kenya on slippery media freedom path, Uhuru must act – HRW

Human Rights Watch has demanded that Kenya end the media shutdown occasioned by Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s swearing in on Tuesday.

The Communications Authority closed down stations including Citizen, KTN News, NTV and Inooro TV hours before the ceremony that took place at Uhuru Park in Nairobi,.

Some of the radio stations owned by Royal Media Services were also affected.

Raila was sworn-in as the people’s president while Jubilee Party incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta was in Ethiopia. His running mate Kalonzo Musyoka did not make it to the venue and is to take his oath later.

Otsieno Namwaya, who is HRW’s Africa researcher, noted: “Kenyan authorities have restricted media coverage at a critical moment, and violated the public’s right to information about important events.

“They should immediately allow the media organisations to resume their work in accordance with the law.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Namwaya further noted that the government’s action underlines a trend since 2013, when Uhuru took oath of office for his first term.

“Government officials have intimidated, harassed and threatened media organisations, individual journalists and bloggers writing on sensitive subjects,” he said.

He added pressure on the media increased during and after the prolonged election period in 2017. Kenya’s original presidential election took place on August 8 and a re-run on October 26 after Raila filed a petition at the Supreme Court, claiming there were malpractices.

He withdrew from the repeat vote and strengthened his national resistance movement, which Interior minister Fred Matiang’i has now declared a criminal group.

Uhuru and deputy president William Ruto were eventually sworn-in for their second terms on November 28, the day when Raila declared he would be inaugurated as leader of the People’s Republic of Kenya.

Opposition leaders have been pushing for secession and Raila has asked his supporters to boycott products such as those by Brookside, Safaricom and Bidco.

Namwaya noted Kenyan authorities must protect and uphold rights to expression and access to information, as enshrined in the constitution and international law.

“Kenya is on a very slippery trajectory in regard to human rights and Uhuru urgently needs to reverse this trend.”

He warned the heightened assault on freedom of the media and expression could further damage Kenya’s global reputation as a rights-respecting nation.

In a report on May 30, 2017, the rights group said local authorities had committed abuses against journalists reporting on sensitive issues, threatening freedom of expression ahead of elections.

The report indicated journalists and bloggers faced intimidation, beatings and job loss. It documented 17 incidents in which 23 journalists and bloggers were physically assaulted between 2013 and 2017.

HRW said the assault was by government officials or individuals believed to be aligned with government officials.

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