Rising cost of living sparks nationwide protests, journalists bear brunt of police brutality
On 20th March 2023, Raila Odinga, the leader of the Azimio la Umoja opposition party, called for country-wide demonstrations to protest the skyrocketing cost of living and the allegedly fraudulent election conducted last August. During the protests in Nairobi, the police fired tear gas and arrested dozens of people, including two opposition members of parliament. Meanwhile, in Kisumu, police authorities shot and killed William Mayange, a Maseno University student, during the demonstrations. According to police reports, protesters, including students, broke through the Maseno police line, “prompting officers to use live bullets to disperse the rowdy youths.” Additionally, the police claimed that they ran out of tear gas canisters. The following day, on 21st March 2023, Raila announced that the anti-government protests would proceed every Monday and Thursday until the government meets their demands.
Similar demonstrations were held on 27th March 2023, when police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse demonstrations in Nairobi. Incidents of violence against Odinga and his supporters were reported, while in a separate part of the city, in Kamakis along the Nairobi Eastern Bypass highway, a group of individuals armed with crude weapons invaded former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s family property, cut trees and stole livestock. Kenyatta supported Odinga’s candidacy in the 2022 general election. Journalists were also targeted during this protest by police and by rowdy goons, with no less than ten incidents of attacks, harassment and intimidation being reported (more details in the expression section below).
Peter Kio has notified the police that tomorrow there shall be a peaceful demonstration to demand #JusticeForJeff. The police have replied by saying “demos, picketing, processions” are banned. Will Ruto suspend the Constitution and announce martial law next? Dictatorship loading pic.twitter.com/pTDCcdk3jV— The People’s Watchman (@bonifacemwangi) March 23, 2023
As the opposition continued to hold the weekly protests, on 30th April 2023, Nairobi Regional Police Commander Adamson Bungei announced that the protests were banned, effective from 2nd May 2023, citing violence during previous protests. In his public speech on Labour Day (1st May 2023), President Wiliam Ruto also announced that the protests were illegal. A defiant Odinga however announced that the protests would continue despite being outlawed.
On 24th March 2023, Kenya's media regulatory authority threatened to revoke the broadcast licences of six local media outlets, including Citizen TV, NTV, K24, KBC, TV47 and Ebru TV, for allegedly "violating the programming code in their coverage of the protests in Kenya." This followed their live coverage on 20th March 2023 of anti-government protests (see above in peaceful assembly section). According to the CEO of the Communications Authority of Kenya, Ezra Chiloba, the stations showed scenes from the protests which were likely to cause panic and incitement. The authority wrote to the stations asking them to take remedial action and to take caution in their live coverage to avoid scenes likely to cause public unrest.
In latest #IFEX #Africa round up @zambezimasala puts spotlight on #Kenya's #Azimio protests and how media was sandwiched between security forces and protesters in a polarised environment: https://t.co/tRVps66D2g @NamMediaTrust @article19eafric https://t.co/l3gr9WBFbz— IFEX (@IFEX) May 17, 2023
The 27th March 2023 demonstrations in Nairobi and different parts of the country resulted in harassment, brutal attacks, arrests, and destruction of equipment belonging to members of the media who were covering the events. Among the victims were two journalists from Royal Media Services, who were physically attacked, and two from Africa Uncensored, who were arrested by police and later released. Additionally, protesters physically assaulted two journalists from Agence France Presse (AFP) and the Chinese broadcaster from China Global Television Network (CGTN). Furthermore, the police forced a journalist employed by Nation TV to delete her recordings of the demonstrations, and journalists from Citizen TV were also targets of violence. A group of armed individuals with crude weapons such as sharpened machetes attacked media crews covering their encroachment of the Kenyatta family property. The attackers knocked down Nation crime reporter Steve Otieno, robbed him of his phone and hit him three times on the head with the handle of a machete. As a result, Otieno suffered from swelling on his neck, ear, and a persistent headache and blurred vision in his right eye for two days. The attackers also threw stones at the NTV camera crew's vehicle when they arrived, causing damage.
Responding to the attacks and unwarranted harassment and arrests of journalists covering the Azimion protests, Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, said:
“Journalists covering the ongoing protests in Kenya are carrying out a crucial public service, and authorities must support reporters instead of threatening or detaining them.” “Kenya’s regional reputation as a hub for the free press is at risk unless this aggression against the media is stopped, and attacks on journalists are credibly investigated and prosecuted.”
On 6th March 2023, a tweet by Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, which seemed to allude to calling on President Ruto to find a way to ‘crush’ the media, caused public outrage. In the tweet, the Senator also seemingly branded the media as a cartel which is “very powerful and influential”, and which needs to be reined in for “public good”. Media stations and media associations responded boldly, denouncing the senator’s utterances, and reiterated the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and media freedom.
Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) Chairperson William Oloo Janak said:
“[It’s unacceptable for] a member of parliament who legislates laws to talk about the media being a cartel,” he said, adding: “We will work very hard and mobilise the entire media fraternity to defend media freedom and Article 34 of the Constitution.”