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A Kenyan journalist participates in a protest in the capital, Nairobi, against draconian new laws restricting media freedom that were presented in parliament, December 3, 2013. © 2013 Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Many Kenyan journalists and rights activists travelled this week to Ethiopia for a summit to mark the World Press Freedom Day celebrations. It’s a sign of how things have changed that some Kenyan journalists told us how impressed they were by progress Ethiopia is making in opening up media space – while lamenting the fact that Kenya appears to be moving in the opposite direction.

Over the past year, Kenyan journalists and bloggers have faced serious challenges, including directives issued by state officers that undermine press freedom, and physical attacks on journalists at work. In May 2018, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) banned posting of videos by individual bloggers unless granted permission by the board. Following public outcry, KFCB chief executive officer, Ezekiel Mutua, rescinded the ban. Earlier in April 2018, KFCB had banned the screening of a film Rafiki, featuring a lesbian relationship. A judge in Nairobi lifted the ban on the film on September 21.

Journalists and bloggers have also faced physical attacks and despite receiving formal complaints from journalists, police have rarely investigated the attacks or threats. In January 2018, for example, media reported that people attacked and injured at least eight journalists in Turkana county, northern Kenya, during a press conference organized by one faction of the former ruling party, KANU. One of the journalists recently told Human Rights Watch that even though they filed reports on the attack with police, the authorities haven’t apprehended anyone.

In the past, bloggers and journalists have also faced arrests and detention without trial. In 2017, Human Rights Watch documented how the government has attempted to obstruct critical journalists with legal, administrative, and informal measures, including threats, intimidation, harassment, online and phone surveillance, and in some cases, physical assaults.

In the spirit of World Press Freedom Day celebration, Kenya needs to take steps to protect freedom of the press. The authorities should credibly investigate incidents of harassment and physical attacks against journalists and refrain from imposing any arbitrary restrictions on content.  

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