A sharp increase in the number of Ethiopian journalists fleeing into exile has been recorded by the Committee to Protect Journalists in the past 12 months. More than 30--twice the number of exiles CPJ documented in 2012 and 2013 combined--were forced to leave after the government began a campaign of arrests. In October, Nicole Schilit of CPJ's Journalist Assistance program and Martial Tourneur of partner group Reporters Without Borders traveled to Nairobi in Kenya to meet some of those forced to flee.
The Kenyan press is being caught in the crossfire as authorities seek to strengthen defenses against terrorists. On December 19, Kenya's president signed into law a security bill that has the power to stop the press covering terror attacks. The government has also recently criticized the media over allegations that special units are carrying out extra-judicial killings, and a local journalist who reports on security issues has gone into hiding after receiving threats.
Today, the Committee to Protect Journalists in collaboration with local media organizations launched a journalist security guide and protocol designed specifically for the Kenyan press. The initiative stems from research conducted in 2013 by the same group of organizations, the Kenya Media Working Group, in light of acute and unique security challenges for the Kenyan press coming to light that year.
Less than a year later, Lepage's body was found in a car in the Central African Republic, according to news reports citing the French government. She had been traveling with fighters of the anti-Balaka Christian militia and was killed in an ambush, the reports said.
Today, CPJ partnered with Reporters Without Borders and Rory Peck Trust in a joint open letter calling on Kenya's Cabinet Secretary of Interior, Joseph Ole Lenku, to provide clarity on the government's refugee policy and to exempt journalists from forced relocation to the refugee camps. On March 25, Lenku ordered all urban refugees to relocate to one of two refugee camps in a bid to tighten security amid continuing violence, including an attack on a church in Mombasa. His order came despite the fact that a similar government directive in 2012 was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court.
EDITOR'S NOTE: February 15, 2014 marked one year since Omwa Ombara arrived in the U.S. to seek political asylum after attempts on her life in Kenya between May and December 2012. She fled her native land after being contacted by International Criminal Court (ICC) investigators probing the violence that followed the Kenyan elections in 2007-2008, in which more than 1,000 people were killed, according to news reports. Ombara was never a witness, nor did she ever meet any ICC investigators, but the mere suspicion that she was participating in the ICC process prompted a spate of threats. She describes her own ordeal and the culture of silence that has settled over most of the Kenyan media. CPJ's Journalist Assistance program supported Ombara throughout her ordeal.
Should journalists expect support and protection from security agents when they risk their lives to report on security operations? What if their coverage could potentially expose military strategies? Why are journalists disparaged as unpatriotic when they show how security operations fail?
"Mr. President, you gagged us!" said a banner tied to the gates of Parliament today. Kenya's Editors Guild and the Kenya Correspondents' Association organized peaceful demonstrations across the country to protest a media bill currently under parliamentary review. Protests were held in every county in the country, according to William Janak, chairman of the correspondents' association, including roughly 80 to 100 protesters in the port-city of Mombasa, 100 in the central city of Kisumu, and 400 in the capital, Nairobi.
Few in Kenya's media could comprehend how a media bill, considered the most repressive in Kenya's 50-year history, could sail so easily through Parliament last week. Fittingly, Parliament passed the Kenya Information and Communications Amendment Bill on Halloween. It is awaiting President Uhuru Kenyatta's signature following a 14- day deliberation period.
Do you believe the free flow of information must be protected? Sign the #RightToReport petition and demand that President Obama immediately:
1. Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
2. Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
3. Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
Or click here to see the full petition, and join leading journalists like Christiane Amanpour, The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the AP Kathleen Carroll, and Arianna Huffington in signing on.