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MEDIA BEING SILENCED AS POLITICAL CRISIS INTENSIFIES

A continuing ban on live broadcasts and new death threats to journalists in Kenya are silencing media reports on the country's escalating political crisis, says IFEX member the Media Institute.

The government announced the indefinite live broadcast ban on 30 December, as violent protests erupted after President Mwai Kibaki was re-elected for another five years amid allegations of vote-rigging.

The Media Institute and the Kenya Editors Guild, a group of both past and current editors across the media industry, filed a lawsuit on 29 January to quash the ban on live broadcasts after the government ignored their ultimatum to have the ban lifted. The case is due to be heard later this week.

The organisations say the ban harms the ability of journalists to cover Kenya's unfolding political crisis, and that "the situation is worse than the government wants the public and the world to believe." According to the Media Institute, nearly 1,500 people have died and more than 250,000 have fled their homes.

The same day the court case was announced, the government announced plans to set up a task force to probe the conduct of the media in its coverage of the elections and its aftermath. "The government is essentially turning the heat on the media to shift blame for inflaming tension," says the Media Institute.

Meanwhile, human rights defenders and journalists who are critical of the government have become the target of death threats.

Maina Kiai, a prominent human rights activist and chair of the government's own Commission on Human Rights, is in danger of being "eliminated", reports the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). A special unit has allegedly been set up within the security forces to consider ways of "neutralising" Kiai, who has been seen as a "traitor" for saying that the recent elections were flawed and for calling for a fresh election. Kiai fled the country on 24 January.

Then on 29 January, the Mungiki, a pro-government militia recruited to protect the interests of Kenya's largest and most prosperous ethnic group, the Kikuyus, issued a broad threat to major media houses and senior editors and journalists.

On their hit list was journalist Paul Ilado of the daily "Nairobi Star", who had told police he had been receiving numerous death threats following his exclusive reports of Kiai and other human rights activists being intimidated by the government.

The Media Institute condemns the threats and has joined international appeals for the protection of the media and human rights defenders, and for those responsible for the threats to be brought to trial.

Earlier this month, 23 IFEX members wrote an open letter to the Kenyan president urging his government to rescind the ban on media coverage.

Visit these links:
- IFEX alerts on Kenya: http://tinyurl.com/35fzq8
- Media Institute (email): mediainst(@)wananchi(.)com
- Eastern Africa Journalists Association (email): eaja(@)intnet(.)dj
- The Daily Nation, "Lift broadcast ban, say editors": http://tinyurl.com/2wmg2y
- The Observatory: http://tinyurl.com/3xws75
- IFEX Communiqué, "Government imposes news blackout" (14 January 2008): http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89441/
(Photo courtesy of AP)

(29 January 2008)

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