ODPP blamed for delaying justice for violated journalists |


Media stakeholders have cited the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) as the weakest link in convicting perpetrators of crimes against journalists. 

Media practitioners, the regulator Media Council of Kenya, human rights groups and county governments have accused the ODPP and other government agencies of delaying the conclusion of cases involving journalists attacked in the line of duty. 

Victor Bwire, director of media training and development at the Media Council of Kenya (MCK), said prosecution remained a major challenge to media freedom. 

“We have raised this issue with the ODPP, listing cases involving journalists that are fairly straightforward for him to direct for prosecution, but little has been done to actualise this,” Mr Bwire said.

“We have raised this issue with the ODPP, listing cases affecting journalists which are quite straight forward so that he may direct for prosecution, but little has been done,” said Mr Bwire. 

According to him, out of 100 reported cases of attacks on journalists, barely four have been successfully investigated and prosecuted. 

“It is disheartening to see journalists being attacked, some are killed, yet the perpetrators continue to walk scot-free. In a year when more than 100 cases are in court, the prosecution only manages to keep four active. Why can’t we just have even one successfully prosecuted case of crime against journalists to be an example?” asked Mr Bwire. 

Mr Bwire said there had been some murder cases involving journalists that had gone cold despite strong evidence against the accused persons. 

“In some cases, even the person who was found with the deceased journalist’s phone was never questioned,” said Mr Bwire.

He regretted that some journalists have had to flee a country like Kenya for fear of their lives when it is not even at war. 

David Omwoyo, MCK’s Chief Executive Officer, warned that the country’s media freedom rating would suffer if the incessant attacks continued unabated and unchecked.

“The attacks come from the police, public, politicians, and now the unlikely quarters: students,” Mr Omwoyo said, noting that a number of these cases have gone unpunished.

He called for concerted efforts by various stakeholders to fight impunity against journalists.

The concern was raised in Kisumu during the commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, hosted by the MCK in collaboration with the Katiba Institute.

The DPP, however, denied failure on its part to prosecute crimes against journalists.

According to Ms Tabitha Ouya, Senior Assistant in the Office of the DPP, the criminal justice system is a chain that includes other players such as the police, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the judiciary and others, hence the need to proactively engage them all.

“Sometimes when accusations are levelled against us like this, we are not able to ascertain at what level the gap or failure is because there are many players in the justice system. There is a need for proactive engagement with all stakeholders to achieve justice as required,” said Ms Ouya.

She added that the ODPP has dealt with criminal cases in a general way and had not singled out those against journalists. This, she said, would change so that crimes against media personalities would receive due attention. 

She noted the need to work with media stakeholders to ensure that crimes against journalists receive special attention.

“It is an opportune time to take a serious approach to deal with cases of journalists separately. The specific cases against journalists [should] be made clear to us for follow-up,” she said.

During the commemoration, Standard Media Group’s Siaya correspondent Isaiah Gwengi reflected on his horrific experience at the hands of rogue and violent police officers.

“I was handcuffed at night, stripped naked and tortured by the then Quick Response Team arm of the Administrative Police. To date, my case is yet to be prosecuted and my tormentors brought to book,” said Mr Gwengi. 

Ms Ouya promised to follow up his case for a speedy resolution.

As the media community commemorates the day, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) notes that while impunity for crimes against journalists remains unacceptably high, there has been a steady decline since 2018 by a total of three percent.

In 2022, the global impunity rate was measured by Unesco at 86 per cent, compared to 89 per cent in 2018. Unesco continues to see an upward trend in the number of solved cases worldwide, from 11 per cent in 2018 to 14 per cent in 2022.

In Kenya, between March 12 and August 31, 2020, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa documented 48 incidents in which 34 male and 14 female journalists and media workers faced various forms of violations, including physical assault, arrest, telephone or verbal threats, online harassment and lack of access to public information, officials and buildings.

The Kenya Media Sector Working Group (KMWSG) reported that between March and April 2023, more than 20 journalists and media workers were assaulted or faced press freedom violations off and online while covering nationwide protests called by the opposition to demand government action on the high cost of living.

Kisumu Deputy Governor Mathew Owili said Kenyan journalists, like other media workers around the world, have suffered brutal attacks and other forms of impunity from politicians, police and hired thugs.

Dr Owili said that although attacks on the press were a global concern, Kenya appeared to be faring badly.

“Our country has been ranked 116th out of 200 countries [in terms of] media freedom according to the World Press Freedom index by Reporters Without Borders,” he said.

Owili also wondered why, despite the enactment of laws to protect freedom of expression and media independence in Kenya, the laws were not being enforced.

“As we sit here this morning, a journalist with the Nation Media Group, Kenneth Ruto, is in police custody in Kapsabet after he was arrested on Wednesday over a report he filed on insecurity in the North Rift.

Journalism is a fundamental tool for development, but also remains a dangerous and too often deadly profession, and more annoying is the fact that even after the attacks on journalists, assailants always go scot-free,” he lamented.

But experts say Kenya’s ranking has been affected by the recent murder of a Pakistani investigative journalist in Nairobi. No one has been arrested in connection with the murder.

Dr Owili lamented that despite a resolution adopted by members of the United Nations General Assembly 10 years ago declaring November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, more journalists are still being attacked in the line of duty, the death toll is rising and more journalists are being imprisoned or detained.

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