Media / Watchdog
Thursday, 23 Mar 2017 15:42 EAT
The Kenyan media fraternity has sounded the alarm over increased government repression of journalists ahead of the hotly-contested general elections scheduled for August 8. The government-led media regulator, the journalists union and media NGOs joined forces with newsgroups whose reporters have faced the wrath of state agents to express their outrage at the "increasing numbers and frequency of journalists being harassed, intimidated and physically assaulted while in line of duty across the country."
The Media Council, Kenya Union of Journalists, Kenya Correspondents Association and Association of Media Women in Kenya spoke in solidarity with the Standard Group, which publishes The Standard newspapers and runs KTN television, to raise concern about the conduct of police officers who arrested and beat up a Standard reporter for reporting on police corruption.
The reporter, Isaiah Gwengi, is based in the newsgroup's western Kenya bureau covering Siaya County. He was arrested yesterday 22 March by members of the Administration Police who physically assaulted him alongside a human rights defender, Mr Rodgers Ochieng, who is also based in the neighbouring Usenge town.
Arrested on allegations of incitement, the two were brutally assaulted and later treated at Got Agulu Hospital before spending the night at Usenge Police Station. The journalist was gathering information on police abuses and harassment of Kenyans in Usenge, Siaya County, while the human rights defender was helping with his field research. Mr Gwengi suffered hand, neck and waist injuries perpetrated by police officers who are supposed to provide security and protect all citizens. The duo had in February reported to the Bondo DCIO that their lives were in danger.
Siaya-based journalists protesting their colleague's beating by the police.
"Police brutality on journalists is unacceptable especially in the run up to the general election. Any such move against a free media will deny Kenyans access to information, freedom of expression and should be condemned in the strongest terms possible," said representatives of media institutions who included MCK chairman Charles Kerich, KUJ secretary general Eric Oduor, Kenya Correspondents Association chairman Oloo Janak, AMWIK executive director Merceline Nyambala and Standard Group deputy editorial director Kipkoech Tanui.
Mr Tanui of the Standard Group said that the journalists were stripped naked, beaten by the officers, tortured and then taken to the cells. The police told the journalist they can’t fight them with since they only have cameras and pens yet the officers have guns. The police wanted to confirm if the journalists were circumcised.
This case comes in the wake of previous attacks on journalists in the course of duty. We laud the inspector general of police for the swift move to order urgent investigations into the matter but we demand the immediate arrest and prosecution of the said officers. Last year saw a number of journalists killed or hurt in the line of duty.
Dennis Otieno, a freelance photographer, was gunned down seeking to recover him a sensitive photo he had taken earlier in Kitale. Joseph Masha from Standard group claimed to have been poisoned when he shared a meal with vocal politician and died in Kilifi. Jane Wangechi was physically assaulted by Monica Njambi Kirungu a nominated MCA of lamu County from Baharini Ward.
Lydia Nyawira from the Standard group and Grace Gitau from Nation media were assaulted by MCA’s while covering Nyeri County Assembly sessions, while Moses Masinde of K24 was attacked by a gang of youth during political rallies in Port Victoria, Busia County and Shaban Makokha in Kakamega County. Another journalist Bernard Wesonga was kidnapped by fake police officers and later died.
"We reiterate that the assault on Gwengi and the activist is in breach of the constitution that guarantees freedom of the media and access to information by the public. The media fraternity will pursue the matter to ensure due process is followed and the perpetrators face full force of the law," they said in the statement.
According to Mr Oduor, police officers were enjoying a level of impunity due to the rising numbers of cases of harassment of journalists for which they have never faced the law. “The police officers instead of providing security to citizens are the ones working against the law,” said Mr Oduor.
In Siaya, a number of journalists took to the streets to protest Mr Gwengi's beating. They included Lilian Osiema of Citizen TV, Mary Goretty Juma of K24, Olivia Odhiambo of The Standard newspaper and Christine Ochogo of Radio Nam Lolwe.
Additional reporting by Cecilia Karanja
The writers are staff reporters at the Kenya Free Press