Journalist abducted, risks it all to save his life

Expression

In what is becoming a worrying and escalating trend of attacks on journalists, yet another incident was reported. On the evening of 3rd September 2018, reporter and photojournalist Barrack Oduor, who was with Sharon Otieno, were abducted and attacked as they went to meet a story source, a meeting which later turned out to be a trap and an attempt on their lives. The two were allegedly lured into a hotel for a meeting by the personal assistant of the county governor of Migori County, Michael Oyamo. They later had to get into a car due to a change in the meeting venue. Later on, two unknown persons entered the car and began attacking them. After much struggle, Oduor managed to jump off the moving car and escaped into the dark woods. Sharon however, who did not manage to escape, was found dead the next morning. 

It later emerged that Sharon, who had been having a relationship with the county governor, Okoth Obado, was seven months pregnant and had contacted the journalist-Oduor, to make the story public as the governor had allegedly neglected her and her pregnancy. Oduor, had then sought to get the governor's side of the story before making it public. A person who allegedly identified himself as the county governor had then assured him that Oyamo would handle the matter. It was after they met Oyamo that things took a turn for the worst. According to her mother, Sharon had in the recent past feared for her life as she was under pressure to terminate the pregnancy, which she had refused to do.

In yet another case of attacks on journalists, on 16th August 2018, two Nation Media Group journalists were roughed up by security guards and workers of a construction site while trying to cover a story on the ownership of the property and expose an ongoing construction project which had encroached on public land. The two, Laban Walloga and Karim Rajan were then put into a car and taken to Bamburi Police Station where they were arrested and booked under what a senior officer said was the orders of a top government official. They were however released the same evening after complaints by human and media rights organisations. According to reports, the hotel which currently lies on the said property has previously been linked to the country’s deputy president.

Separately, on 31st July 2018, during a parliamentary session two journalists with the privately-owned People Daily newspaper were criticized and threatened with being barred from covering future parliamentary proceedings, and summoned to a legislative committee. The summons was allegedly in connection to stories Dinah Ondari and Anthony Mwangi had published on 30th and 31st July accusing members of parliament of taking and soliciting bribes from organizations and individuals they were supposed to be investigating. 

Critisizing this decision by the Natonal Assembly, secretary general of the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Eric Oduor said: 

“It has come to our attention that National Assembly has summoned two journalists, Anthony Mwangi and Dinah Ondari, to appear before a parliamentary committee to reveal sources of their stories, which detailed rot in the august house ...Media exists to serve the interests of great people of Kenya, and therefore as a watchdog, it has a duty to investigate the rot in the august House and inform the public.”

Association

In other developments, in mid June 2018, during the reading of the 2017/2018 budget, treasury Cabinet Secretary allocated the Kenya judiciary with a KES 15.2 billion fund (USD 51 million), almost  KES 2 billion (USD19.7 million) less than the previous year’s budget, a move that has caused concern within the judiciary because it will cripple ongoing projects. At least 70 court projects are set to stall because of the massive cut. Civil society groups have criticized the budget cut, claiming that it is intended as a punishment to the judiciary for decisions made by courts. The International Commission of Jurists – Kenya Chapter noted that the cut was particularly motivated by threats that had been made by the president to ‘revisit the judiciary’ after the supreme court nullified his win in the August 8th general elections in 2017. Speaking on live television after his win was nullified, an angry and irate president Kenyatta had said “we shall revisit this thing. We clearly have a problem and we must fix it’ referring to the judiciary. The Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association also criticized the budget, emphasizing that it would threaten the independence of the judiciary.

On 30th August 2018, several civil society organisations collaborated to mark the international day of victims of enforced disappearances by launching the http://www.missingvoices.co.ke website that will help document cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions in Kenya. #MissingVoicesKE.

In other developments, in late August, a Kenyan lawyer, whose identity has been revealed by media reports only as Mr. Bett, filed a petition at the International Criminal Court in the Hague to officially investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed the during eviction of families from Mau Forest. The indigenous Ogiek community, who live in the Mau forest complex, allege that they have been forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands without compensation for decades. In May 2017, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled that the Kenyan govern had violated the Ogiek people’s rights to land, religion, culture, development, and non-discrimination.

Peaceful Assembly

On 23rd August 2018, dozens of Kenyans took to the streets, to show solidarity and protest the detention of Ugandan pop star turned member of parliament, Robert Kyagulanyi popularly known as Bobi Wine and thirty two others. The protestors converged at the city’s Uhuru park and marched to the Ugandan Embassy.

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, on 13th August 2018, authorities arrested Bobi Wine, several other opposition Members of Parliament and dozens of protestors after chaos erupted in a bi-election that turned violent, with the police using lethal force to disperse crowds. 

Kenyan members of parliament also demanded action by Ugandan authorities over the continued detention of Bobi Wine. On 22nd August, youthful MPs from the Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association held a press conference in Nairobi’s parliament buildings where they criticized the continued detention as an infringement on the right to freedom of expression and association. They threatened to send a delegation to Uganda and hold a massive protest in the streets of Kampala, if Bobi Wine was not released from detention within a week. 

However, the following day on 23rd August, as protestors in Nairobi were demonstrating, Bobi Wine was released from detention from the military baracks, and military charges against him dropped. He was however immediately handed over to the Ugandan police and re-arrested on charges of treason. A few days later, on 27th August, he and the 32 others who had been arrested were released on bail.