The Kenyan government must halt its crackdown on media freedom and allow Jerome Starkey to return to the country, said nine human rights organizations today, two months after the British journalist was detained and deported.
The organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and PEN International, have sent a letter to Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Internal Affairs and Coordination of National Government Joseph Nkaissery, and other senior government officials, calling for Jerome Starkey to be allowed to return to Kenya to resume his work, and that the government publicly reaffirm its oft-expressed commitment to the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.
“It’s a travesty that Jerome Starkey, a well-respected international journalist was detained and deported under questionable circumstances and is now no longer able to carry out his work in Kenya. But this is just one of many cases of media harassment and intimidation of journalists carried out by the Kenyan authorities,”
Justus Nyang’aya, Amnesty International Kenya’s Country Director.
“Journalists must be allowed to investigate and report on important issues without fearing for their safety. In the run-up to elections and beyond, Kenyan authorities must publicly declare their commitment to freedom of the press and show that they mean it, by investigating all allegations of attacks on journalists and ensuring that suspected perpetrators are brought to justice in fair trials.”
The statement also calls for thorough, impartial and transparent investigations into all attacks against journalists in Kenya, including the murder in 2015 of John Kituyi, the editor of a regional newspaper.
The letter has been copied to the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Inspector General of Police, the Chairman of the Commission on Administration of Justice, and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.
Jerome Starkey, The Times’ Africa Correspondent, who had been living and working in Kenya for five years, was detained at the airport in Nairobi and deported back to the UK on 8 December 2016 without any explanation at the time.
After several requests for an explanation from The Times, a spokesman for the Kenyan High Commission informed the newspaper in a letter dated 10 January that Jerome was expelled because his work permit application had been rejected. However, he had previously been assured by the Immigration Department that no decision had been made. Then, more than six weeks after he was deported, a letter from the Immigration Department postmarked 23 January 2017, informed him that he had been refused an entry permit and a work permit.
The human rights organizations are calling on the authorities to withdraw the rejection letter and allow him to return to the country and resume his work as a journalist.
The statement lists several cases of Kenyan journalists and activists who have faced harassment and interference in their work over the past year. Most notably:
- Duncan Wanga, a K24 television journalist was harassed and attacked by police, who destroyed his camera while he was covering a demonstration in Eldoret town in September 2016.
- Boniface Mwangi, a prominent activist and former award-winning photo journalist, was sued for defamation in October 2016 after posting a tweet linking Deputy President William Ruto to the murder of businessman Jacob Juma. Boniface later received a death threat and briefly fled the country.
- Denis Galava, then Managing Editor of the Daily Nation’s Weekend Edition, was sacked over an editorial he wrote on New Year’s Day 2016 that was critical of the government. His employer, Nation Media Group, said in a statement that he had not followed the correct procedure in writing the editorial. Galava has since sued the Daily Nation for wrongful dismissal.
Organizations signed up to the letter include:
Amnesty International Kenya, ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, English PEN, Human Rights Watch, INDEX on Censorship, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), PEN International, Reporters Sans Frontières