To stop attacks on journalists, hold police accountable

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By VICTOR BWIRE
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The attack on Standard journalist Isaiah Gwengi, based in Siaya, by the Administration Police officers in relation to a story he did on police brutality has once again brought the fore the level of exposure and vulnerability of journalists in Kenya.

It’s encouraging that the IG, Joseph Boinnet, has already promised speedy investigations into the matter, with a view to taking action.

People, including police officers, who violate the right of others must be held accountable; they cannot continue hiding behind the State.

A number of such cases where individual officers would have been held responsible have not been acted on before, and journalists have raised the issue with the relevant offices.

The case of Reuben Ogachi and Arthur Okwembah, journalists based in Malindi who were attacked and badly injured by police officers, is yet to make any progress.

In addition, the cases of Francis Nyaruri and John Kituyi, who died under mysterious circumstances in Kisii and Eldoret, respectively, are yet to be concluded.

Hopefully, the police will get to the bottom on this matter this time around. 

There are fears that the situation of journalists might get bad, because of the extreme political positions of various political leaders and ownership structures of the media.

Concern for safety and protection of journalists has in many cases affected the ability to or quality of reporting, which is detrimental to the realisation of rights enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 paragraph 2 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Respect for the fundamental rights of all people is an essential feature of any democracy.

Indeed, a raft of laws at international, regional and national level has been developed to guide promotion and realisation of these rights.

The Constitution of Kenya, for example, states that the Bill of Rights is an integral part of Kenya’s democratic state.

In addition to the protection provided by Article 33 and 34 to journalists, they are also protected under the right to life, right to work and other related labour laws of the land.

In 1997, Unesco Member States passed Resolution 29 on “Condemnation of violence against journalists”.

The resolution was adopted by states in response to serious concerns about the killing of journalists in many countries and the evidence of the spread of impunity – that is, the persistent failure of the lawful authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns attacks against journalists in conflict situations.

Provisions protecting the right to life, personal liberty and integrity, freedom from torture, freedom of expression, and the right to an effective remedy, which are incorporated within international human rights law instruments, provide journalists with the necessary guarantees against violations of their rights and risks to their safety.

The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights guarantees individuals against arbitrary deprivation of the right to life (Article 4), establishes an absolute prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 5), guarantees the right to liberty and security of the person (Article 6), and freedom of expression (Article 9).

The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity of UNESCO in sections 1.4 and 1.5 capture the International Legal regime and the philosophical underpinnings that journalists and other media professionals; and or workers perform and serve in discharge of their roles and functions.

Section 1.4 of the Plan avers “The Safety of journalists and the struggle against impunity for their killers are essential to preserve the fundamental right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of Expression is an individual right, for which no one should be killed, but it is also a collective right, which empowers populations through facilitating dialogue, participation and democracy, and thereby makes autonomous and sustainable development possible.”

The likely increase in threats and persecution faced by journalists at local and national level because of the August 2017 General Election calls for development of proactive measures for addressing safety and protection concerns for journalists, including proper documentation and trend analysis of the incidences, increased public awareness on the same and involving various stakeholders including the government, media owners, journalists and civil society groups.


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