Freedom of expression under threat in the run up to 8th August elections
Chris Msando’s death must be urgently investigated and those found responsible brought to justice. #JusticeForMsando pic.twitter.com/KGtCSrx4KG— AmnestyKenya (@AmnestyKenya) 1 augustus 2017
The body of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ICT manager Christopher Msando was found on 28th July 2017. He was reported missing days earlier, and an autopsy revealed he was tortured and strangled to death. Msando, a systems development manager, played a key role in the management of computer systems for voter identification, as well as transmission and tallying of election results ahead of the presidential election scheduled for 8th August 2017. A breakdown of the voter identification technology was the reason behind the claims of election rigging in the 2013 elections. Msando complained of death threats shortly before he died.
Serious concerns exist regarding election-related violence in this year's election period, as more than 1,000 people died and 500,000 were displaced following the December 2007 elections. Kenya's electoral commission will use only one register to authenticate voters on 8th August and it has been working to fix anomalies in the system that were found after a review by audit firm KPMG, including a revelation that more than a million names in the register are of people who are already deceased. In 2013, the integrity of the voters' register was questioned because the commission used multiple registers, leading opposition parties to accuse the electoral commission of aiding vote rigging.
In a separate incident, but one potentially election-related, an armed man sequestered himself in the home of Deputy President William Ruto on 29th July for almost 19 hours. Neither Ruto nor his family were present at the time, while police tried to remove him from the premises. The perpetrator was later identified by local residents as a hawker in the area and was shot on 30th July by security forces. The reason behind the intrusion and potential threat to Ruto is unknown.
In July 2017, Kenya was placed on the CIVICUS Monitor Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space.
Royal Media group journalist Emmanuel Namisi threatened, assaulted in #Kenya https://t.co/ULJS3mEjsR @citizentvkenya @edithhonan @onamwaya pic.twitter.com/srHU2fIEx3— IFEX (@IFEX) June 19, 2017
As previously reported on the Monitor, journalists and media have faced hostilities ahead of the August election. For example, Emmanuel Namisi, a broadcast journalist for the Royal Media group, was threatened and assaulted at a Bungoma club on 5th June 2017. Namisi identified the perpetrators as the bodyguards of Kenneth Lusaka, governor of the western Kenyan county of Bungoma. According to Namisi, the men were angered by his reporting on their alleged role in the death of a woman at a political rally three nights prior to the assault.
Walter Menya, a journalist for the Sunday Nation newspaper, was arrested on 18th June 2017 on charges of "soliciting a bribe to write a damaging story" due to a story he had written on the involvement of three senior public officials in the use of a foundation to provide illegal funding for President Uhuru Kenyatta's campaign. He was later released on bail on 20th June.
In early June, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Communications Authority of Kenya released their draft social media guidelines to prevent the dissemination of “undesirable bulk political SMS and social media content” ahead of the August election. The 12-page document gives the authorities guidance on regulating communication over a number of channels, including text messaging, voice calls, blogs, document sharing sites, online discussion forums, and social networking sites. A major concern is the use of inflammatory claims that could spread in one or more ethnic languages, and could potentially lead to election-related violence, as what happened in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. The guidelines were criticised as being restrictive as broadcasters will be held accountable for all content aired on their platforms and social media users are required to be "polite, truthful and respectful" and to adopt a "civilised" tone when posting political content. This follows other directives issued earlier this year, including a ban on media announcing the election results, and a directive from 28th February requiring journalists to keep notes and recordings for at least six months.
Additionally, Director-General of the Communication Authority (CA) of Kenya Francis Wangusi warned on 17th July 2017 that local administrators of WhatsApp groups will be held responsible for the spread of falsehood and hate speech, confirming that the CA closely monitors telecommunication channels, mainstream media and social media platforms.
Police confirm that the lone attacker who gained entry into the home of DP William Ruto in Sugoi, has been killed #CoaledCase #Checkpoint pic.twitter.com/n2hRmdypEv— ktn (@KTNKenya) July 30, 2017
Reports indicate a rise in threats and acts of intimidation against opposition and ruling party supporters in Navaisha, Nakuru county, one of the hot spots where violence erupted in the wake of the 2007-2008 general and presidential elections. Authorities are accused of being unwilling to investigate the threats. In addition, women candidates, in particular, have reportedly faced harassment and intimidation on the campaign trail in various regions of the country.
Civil Society stages a protest walk calling for a speedy probe into the death of IEBC ICT manager Chris Msando https://t.co/usRcb933HK pic.twitter.com/I03EyOBkqc— NTV Kenya (@ntvkenya) August 1, 2017
Protests took place to demand justice and a speedy investigation of the murder of Chris Msando on 1st August in Nairobi (see above).
The Standard newspaper reported on 17th July that national security units have shipped crowd-control equipment, such as vehicles, guns and tear gas, into Kenya over the past few weeks in anticipation of potential violent demonstrations following the 8th August elections. Additionally, various security units have been training jointly on how to control riots. Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet warned those who engage in violent activities that: “We are ready and waiting for you!”
Civic Space Developments