Journalists protection, prosecution of perpetrators imperative

"Journalists group must re strategize and regroup as soon as possible".

In Summary

•The violence meted to journalists during the by elections as exemplified by the attack against four journalists in Nakuru, and generally denial to access to information is worrying.

•More concerning is that against the United National Action Plan for the Safety and Impunity against journalists, and the existence of a national mechanism for the safety and protection of journalists in Kenya within the existing host of legal provisions on the same, authorities are not keen on preventing press freedom violations, protecting journalists and prosecuting perpetrators.

Journalists at Harambee House during a media briefing .
Journalists at Harambee House during a media briefing .
Image: FILE

Concern about the safety and protection of journalists, especially those reporting from the frontlines have been raising, initially during exposure to COVID 19 and more recently the by elections in the country.

The violence meted to journalists during the by elections as exemplified by the attack against four journalists in Nakuru, and generally denial to access to information is worrying.

More concerning is that against the United National Action Plan for the Safety and Impunity against journalists, and the existence of a national mechanism for the safety and protection of journalists in Kenya within the existing host of legal provisions on the same, authorities are not keen on preventing press freedom violations, protecting journalists and prosecuting perpetrators.

With a referendum likely to happen in June 2021, and the expectation that the media will play a critical role in civic education, information sharing and ensuring accountability during the process, indications are that media will be a target of attack and harassment during the electioneering the period.

Journalists group must re strategize and regroup as soon as possible, and the national mechanism for the safety of journalists re activated to ensure the protection of journalists during this period, more importantly protection and prosecution of perpetrators.

Press freedom violations including attacks and violence against journalists violates the Kenya Constitution that provides for the protection of all Kenyans and freedom of expression in particular.

In this regard a citizen of Kenya, and, indeed, any person in Kenya enjoys all these rights without exception, including journalists and media professionals.

Article 26 (1):“Every person has the right to life”. Sub-section (3) of the same Article further elaborates that “a person shall not be deprived of life intentionally, except to the extent authorised by the Constitution or other written law”.

Article 28 guarantees the inherent right to human dignity and to have that dignity respected and protected. Article 29 provides for the freedom and security of the person, in particular, the right not be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause.

This Article is categorical with regard to detention without trial, being subjected to any form of violence from either public or private sources; subjected to torture in any manner, whether physical or psychological and treated or punished in a cruel, inhuman or degrading manner.

Articles 31 and 32 protect the privacy of persons and freedom of conscience, religious belief and opinion.

Article 33 protects and entrenches the Freedom of Expression in all its manifestations, including the freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas, including artistic creativity, academic and scientific research, but with limited exceptions to propaganda for war, incitement to violence; hate speech or advocacy of hatred.

Article 34 of Chapter Four that makes a specific reference to Freedom of the Media, which is guaranteed, but with a disclaimer, that these guarantees do not extend to any expression specified in Article 33 (2).

Article 35 enhances transparency and access to information held by both state and private entities that is necessary in the protection and exercise of any right of fundamental freedoms.

Article 41 provides for Journalists and media professionals labour rights that must be respected through consistent pay, work compensation and conducive working environments.

The Media Council of Kenya established through the Media Council Act 2013 regulates the media and protect its freedom; including protecting the rights and privileges of journalists the conduct and discipline of the journalists’ advice government on media related policies.

At the international level, attacks and violence against journalists and media professionals is also a violation of international treaties that Kenya is party to including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that says: States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression. Paragraph 3 [of Article 19] may never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multi-party democracy, democratic tenets and human rights.

UNESCO passed Resolution 29 on “Condemnation of violence against journalists” in 1997 following 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.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns attacks against journalists in conflict situations recalling and acknowledging that journalists engaged in dangerous professionals missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be protected as such.

The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity “recommends working in cooperation with governments, media houses, professional associations and NGOS to conduct awareness raising campaigns on a wide range of issues such as existing international instruments and conventions, the growing dangers posed by emerging threats to media professionals, including non-state actors, as well as various existing practical guides on the safety of journalists”.

 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).