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Journalists, media houses subject to death threats; government threatens to investigate media; media organisations file lawsuit over government's broadcasting ban

(Media Institute/IFEX) - On 29 January 2008, Media Institute and Kenya Editors Guild filed a lawsuit against the government in the country's High Court to quash a broadcasting ban, which has been in effect since 30 December 2007.

The ban was put in place by President Kibaki's government upon his being sworn in for a second term, following a closely contested presidential election whose results are being disputed by the opposition and questioned by international and local observers. The declaration of Kibaki as victor triggered widespread rioting in the country, which has degenerated into unprecedented ethnically-motivated violence with an estimated 1500 people dead over the last four weeks.

The media organisations had given the government an ultimatum to rescind the ban on 24 January before filing the case, which will now be heard on 1 February 2008.

Separately, the Information and Communication Minister Samuel Poghisio announced that the government was setting up a task force to look into the conduct of the media before, during and after the elections, which the media have opposed.

"The government is essentially turning the heat on the media to shift blame for escalating tension. But the media has vowed to resist the move, which is aimed at gagging them," says David Makali, Director of the Media Institute.

Media Institute is concerned by the deteriorating media situation in Kenya with increasing threats to journalists and human rights activists who have made public criticism of the political crisis resulting from the disputed elections.

On January 28, journalist Paul Ilado of the daily "Nairobi Star" filed a statement with the police after he received numerous death threats by the violent pro-government "Mungiki" militia. Ilado had been exclusively covering reports of alleged government threats to human rights activists, who have gone into hiding, including the chairman of the government's own National Commission on Human Rights, Maina Kiai, who fled the country on January 24. Kiai had publicly criticised the government's conduct of the elections.

In addition, the "Mungiki" militia, which has become notorious for brutal murders, issued a broad threat to major media houses and listed senior editors and journalists on their hit list. They included Nation Media Group Managing Editor Joe Odindo, "Standard" newspaper Managing Editor Kipkoech Tanui, Kenya Television Network Managing Editor Linus Kaikai, and reporters Robert Nagila (Nation TV) and Paul Ilado.

Earlier this month, 23 IFEX members wrote a joint protest letter to the Kenyan president urging his government to rescind the ban on media coverage (see IFEX alert of 14 January 2008).

The Media Institute condemns the threats against the media that are aimed at curtailing independent reporting of the political and humanitarian crisis that have driven the country into absolute anarchy.

Given the polarised situation, it is imperative that media be protected from state and private threats in order to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression of the public.

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