Panafrican News Agency

Gambia: CPJ wants investigation into harassment of Kenyan journalists

Banjul, Gambia (PANA) - Authorities in Kenya should credibly investigate incidents of harassment against journalists covering the aftermath of disputed elections held on 8 August, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Friday.

In a statement made available to PANA in Banjul, CPJ disclosed that in the week following Kenya's national election, it spoke with 10 journalists who alleged that they were assaulted or harassed in the course of their reporting.

“As CPJ has documented, journalists were also targeted for attack and intimidation during the pre-election campaign period,” the statement noted.

The press freedom watchdog also said the government should reform Kenya's Firearms Act to lower the barriers on journalists' ability to wear protective gear.

"Journalists in Kenya must be permitted to report without fear of violence or hindrance from security forces or anyone else," CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal remarked.

"Kenyan authorities should make sure that these cases are credibly investigated to make clear that journalists cannot be harassed with impunity and that the public has a right to information from a wide variety of sources."

According to the statement on 12 August, Kenya Television Network (KTN) journalist Duncan Khaemba was reporting on violent post-election protests in Nairobi's Kibera slum when he was arrested for allegedly possessing a helmet and body armour without a proper licence.

However, Kenyan police later told CPJ that the charges were dropped on 15 August.

"Authorities in Kenya and elsewhere should remove the bureaucratic hoops that make it difficult for journalists to keep themselves safe while working in hostile conditions," CPJ Emergencies Director Maria Salazar-Ferro said from New York.

Kenya's Firearms Act classifies bulletproof vests as firearms and stipulates that no one may acquire or possess them without a licence.

Khaemba told CPJ he had a copy of the end-user certificate for the gear at the time of arrest.

The commanding officer of Kilimani police division, Joseph Muthee, told CPJ that a licence was needed in addition to this certificate. He added that the licensing law was meant to guard against misuse of body armour by criminals.

Khaemba and KTN Managing Editor Joe Ageyo told CPJ that security forces had never previously questioned them about licences for their protective gear.

Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Erick Oduor told CPJ he believed the arrest was intended to disrupt Khaemba's reporting.

Protests broke out in parts of Nairobi and Kenya's western Nyanza region, after the election commission on 11 August announced that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was the winner of the presidential race.

Kenyatta's main rival, Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA), dismissed the elections as fraudulent, and protesters took to streets in parts of the country where NASA is most popular.

According to CPJ, Khaemba was not the only journalist to face trouble while reporting from Kibera.

Matina Stevis, Africa correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, also told CPJ that one police officer hit her over the head with a wooden stick on 12 August and the helmet she was wearing protected her from injury.

The statement further catalogued other cases of assaults on journalists by security forces in Kenya.

When contacted by CPJ, Mwenda Njoka, a spokesperson for the Kenyan Ministry of the Interior, denied that security officials deliberately targeted journalists covering the elections.

Although he declined to comment on specific cases, he told CPJ that altercations between police and journalists began when security officials tried to move reporters away from dangerous areas.

"By and large I can tell you that it is unfortunate that journalists have been injured in those situations. We would encourage anybody who says they've been hurt by police or anyone else [to] record statements, and we will investigate," Njoka was quoted saying.

-0- PANA MLJ/AR 18Aug2017