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A rights lobby has condemned violence against journalists while on duty in Kenya, with documented cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation increasing.

According to press freedom lobby Article 19 East Africa, documented cases rose to 59 in 2019, up from 53 in the previous year.

“An independent media is crucial for Kenya’s ability to achieve her development agenda, including the efforts to contain the raging pandemic, and its watchdog role of ensuring that those in power are being held to account,” said Mugambi Kiai, Article 19 Eastern Africa regional director.

“Attacks on journalists increased significantly in the first quarter of 2020, with recorded cases reaching 36. This was at the height of coronavirus pandemic across the country,” he said.

Monitoring period

Of the 36 cases recorded, 22 violations took place between March and April, barely two months following the government’s announcement of the first case of Covid-19 on March 12 in Kenya.

This constitutes 37 per cent of the total violations during the monitoring period.

These attacks were carried out by security agents, government officials and organised mobs in a manner that clearly demonstrates a sustained effort to stifle and control the press, and limit the free flow of information in 22 counties.

The organisation also says Nairobi recorded the highest violations with 13 incidents, followed by Mombasa with 6 and Turkana witnessing 4 cases. Other 19 counties recorded between 3 and 1 cases each.

As the journalists around the globe marks the World Press Freedom Day under the theme of ‘Journalism Without Fear and Favour’ reporting about the coronavirus health crisis, corruption and the 2022 succession politics are the most sensitive stories for journalists to cover in 2020 in Kenya.

Article 19 works to protect and defend freedom of expression, media and information, particularly individual advocates of these rights.

Attacks at the county level continued to increase as journalists have been denied access to information or news venues to provide objective and critical reporting on the counties’ development progress, their response preparedness to the pandemic and the shaping local politics.

“Despite filing complaints with the police, cases of attacks and threats against journalists are rarely investigated,” Mugambi said.

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