Mightier Than the Pen: Kenyan journalists fear for their lives

Mightier Than the Pen: Kenyan journalists fear for their lives

As the world marked World Press Freedom Day, journalists in Kenya have nothing to smile about following death threats targeted against them. By NJERI KIMANI.

One example of the threat to journalists in Kenya is the gruesome murder of veteran Eldoret-based John Kituyi, the owner and editor of The Weekly Mirror newspaper, on 30 April 2015. He had previously worked as the bureau chief for the private daily Standard in Eldoret, but quit to launch the Mirror Weekly in 1995. His articles focused primarily on regional politics in Western Kenya, but he also covered national issues.

Kituyi was walking home from work at about 19:00 when he was accosted by assailants who approached him on a motorcycle and repeatedly hit him with a blunt object and seized his phone. They did not take his money or his watch.

Since the International Criminal Court case began in Kenya, witnesses have been killed and journalists have been forced to go into hiding or flee the country, fearing for their lives.

In an exclusive interview, Kituyi’s family expressed concern over the government delay in bringing the perpetrators of the heinous act to book a year down the line. After the killing, one person who was found with the deceased’s phone was arrested. The case is still ongoing in court.

Since the killing of our father, the case has been dragging in court and only coming up for mention. This amounts to justice denied. Our father was a breadwinner and my siblings are constantly being chased away from school due to lack of fees,” said Sarah Kituyi, his daughter.

Kituyi’s murder has sparked fear among journalists in the region who have often received death threats in the line of duty due to sensitive stories they have written.

Barely a month after the death of Mr Kituyi, another journalist, Michael Olinga of The Standard, was kidnapped by unknown people and driven to Molo town.

He was told later dumped and warned against writing stories about insecurity and land matters in Uasin Gishu County.

It was around 01:00 and I was coming from watching a football match in a club when some people in a saloon car called my name. I don’t remember what happened next as I lost consciousness after they forced me to drink a concoction,” said Mr Olinga.

The thugs stole Sh4,000 cash from the journalist and another Sh7,000 from his bank account using his ATM card. Nobody has yet been arrested following the abduction.

In an interview, Olinga said he was forced to censor his own work.

Our space is slowly shrinking as the media. There are some things I can’t write about, I’d rather not practice than risk my life again,” he said.

Following the incident, journalists stormed Eldoret police station demanding to be assured of their safety.

We are no longer free to discharge our duties for fear of brushing shoulders with some people who feel their misdeeds have been exposed. These days you are uncertain if you will reach home safe,” said a journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Nakuru, veteran journalist Elijah Kinyanjui has been threatened with death on several occasions, and is constantly being arrested for criticising the Nakuru county government in his WhatsApp groups.

I have seen SMSes saying they will come for my head. I have been arrested more times since the county government than during (Daniel Arap) Moi’s regime,” said Kinyanjui.

In Mombasa, a journalist who sought anonymity for fear of being victimised claimed that police were deliberately lagging in investigating the April 2013 death of The Star correspondent Benard Wesonga.

He was found in his house by a housemate with blood on his nose and mouth at about 11:30. Wesonga had confided to his friends that he had been receiving anonymous threats via text message in connection with a story that described allegations of the unlawful shipment and sale of fertiliser that was past its expiration date, journalists said. The case is still being investigated.

Uasin Gishu County Commissioner Abdi Hassan has assured journalist operating in the area they should not feel intimidated but should continue doing their work without fear.

We call on the members of the press to be cautious of their safety and report any threats to police. They will also ask for security when covering hostile environments,” said Mr Hassan.

Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) Chairman William Oloo Janak blamed the government for failing to provide security for the journalists. Janak said that there have been increased cases of unjustified arrests, assault and murder of journalists, especially with the devolved system of government.

It is unfortunate that you are attacked by the state officials who are meant to protect you. In Eldoret, most of the journalists are terrified, not knowing what will befall them next,” said Janak.

According to a report by Article 19 titled “Silenced and Intimidated”, 65 journalists faced different forms of violation in 2015, of whom 58 were male.

Types of violations included murder (one), physical attack (30), threats by phone (10), legal threats (six), summons by police (five), arrests and charged for defamation (12) and conviction for misuse of communication gadgets (one).

Among the issues which the journalists were investigating at the time of violation included corruption, land, ICC, protests, Ssecurity and education, with Nairobi having the highest number with 23 cases. Uasin Gishu had eight violations.

Among the major perpetrators were police, state officers, politicians, football stewards, mobs and unknown individuals. DM

Photo: Veteran Eldoret-based John Kituyi, the owner and editor of The Weekly Mirror newspaper, was murdered on 30 April 2015. (Photo: Twitter)


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