Hostile conditions for Kenyan journalists ahead of August elections


As Kenya prepares for general elections on 8th August 2017, independent journalists, bloggers and activists are being threatened and attacked in public and by the government. As previously reported, Kenyan journalists and independent media outlets are operating in an increasingly hostile environment as political tensions rise prior to the elections.   

Human Right Watch and Article 19 published a report on 30th May 2017 detailing cases of intimidation and harassment faced by journalists and bloggers, in particular, those reporting on corruption, land rights, counter-terrorism operations, and the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence, among other sensitive and controversial issues. To prevent the public from accessing this information, the Kenyan government has routinely used legal, administrative and informal measures, such as threats, intimidation, harassment, online and phone surveillance, and in some cases, physical assaults to silence independent voices. 


According to the Daily Nation, the Ministry of Interior reportedly indicated that anyone refusing to accept the results of the upcoming August general elections and who calls for mass actions or other forms of protests could potentially face arrest. Such rhetoric intimidates citizens and such state actions would severely limit Kenyans’ right to assemble peacefully, which is protected under Article 37 of the country's constitution. 


On 13th May 2017, the High Court in Nairobi ordered the Interior Cabinet Secretary to publish the 2013 Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Act in the Official Gazette, thereby forcing the government to finally implement it within 30 days. Kenya’s parliament officially approved the PBO in 2012. This ruling followed a similar decision by the High Court in December 2016 and is the result of legal action by Kenya’s civil society. The PBO Act  seeks to create an enabling environment for civil society, with clear criteria for registration and tax incentives and benefits for organisations conducting ‘public benefit activities’.

In regards to electoral legislation and political participation, the 2014 Leadership and Integrity Act allows Kenya’s electoral body to bar candidates with questionable integrity from running in elections. Under pressure from civil society to raise the bar on who can run for public office, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission stated that it will rely on reports from watchdog institutions to block those suspected of being corrupt. However, civil society and political parties remain concerned that these measures could be used to bar or discredit legitimate opposition.