Environmental activists face death threats and intimidation
On 24th February 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox, called upon the Kenyan government to take all necessary measures to protect four human rights defenders (HRDs) working for the Centre for Justice Governance and Environmental Action (CJGEA) - a human rights and environmental advocacy organisation based in Mombasa. Though a connection has not yet been made, the HRDs started to receive death threats soon after filing a lawsuit against Metal Refinery EPZ Ltd and Penguin Paper over issues of pollution. Also, two of the activists' houses were damaged by arson, and one activist's 12 year-old dependent was kidnapped and held for three days before being released. The four HRDs have gone into hiding to protect themselves and their families.
In March 2017, CJGEA lobbied the authorities to investigate the threats and protect the HRDs. Finally, on 6th April 2017 the police opened an investigation into the four HRDs' cases.
On 15th February 2017, an appeal court ordered the release of seven medical doctors' trade union officials who had been sentenced to a month in jail for contempt of court. Doctors in Kenya’s public healthcare system finally returned to work on 14th March 2017 after holding a 100-day strike to demand higher wages. The final deal with the government included a provision that no doctor would face disciplinary action as a result of participating in the strike.
In a directive circulated on 8th February 2017, Head of Civil Service and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Chief of Staff, Joseph Kinyua, forbade any government entities from placing ads in privately-owned media outlets, essentially cutting of as much as a third of their potential revenue.
Civil society and journalists widely condemned the government's decision as an attempt to weaken media independence. The decision also comes at a time when journalists and civil society organisations are facing an increasing number of threats and growing pressure from the government ahead of the general elections in August 2017. In a statement on 14th February 2017, the UN Special Rapporteurs on freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, declared,
“We are extremely alarmed at the increasing number of attacks on civil society as the elections draw closer...It appears that there is a systematic and deliberate pattern to crack down on civil society groups which challenge governmental policies, educate voters, investigate human rights abuses and uncover corruption".