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Committee to Protect Journalists Concerned About Lack of Press Freedom in Kenya

The Committee to Protect Journalists says it’s concerned about media freedoms in Kenya, as the political turmoil following last December’s elections continues. However, the CPJ does see some improvement in neighboring Somalia.

CPJ spokesman Tom Rhodes says journalists in Kenya are now facing risks similar to those their colleagues faced in Somalia.

“We’re starting to see the specter of Somalia now emerging in Kenya, as well. The end of last month was particularly dangerous because we saw several threats both via e-mail, by text messages and even live confrontations. So, it was definitely an issue of concern,” he says.

He says, for example, two photojournalists visiting the Kabira slum were threatened and one was even shot at.

“It’s very much politically motivated and very much targeted to the heads of editorial departments,” he says.

However, he says the restrictions on the free press are not just coming from the rival political and ethnic groups in Kenya.

“Since December 30th, the government reacted fairly swiftly to the post-election crises and made a ban on all live broadcasts. Now the interesting development is that the media institute and several other media guild are now bringing this case up in court because they believe that the minister of interior, who brought up the ban, didn’t actually have the jurisdiction to follow it out. Journalists at the moment are just prohibited from any kind of political debate or any kind of on-the-spot reporting,” he says.

In neighboring Somalia, the Committee to Protect Journalists spokesman says one journalist was killed recently, but there were nine confirmed deaths and several unconfirmed deaths in 2007. However, he’s encouraged by actions taken recently by officials of the Transitional Federal Government to increase protections for journalists.

Meanwhile, Rhodes says there’s been no real improvement in Eritrea since a major government crackdown on the media in 2001, when many independent journalists were arrested. In Ethiopia, he sees a bit of a “mixed bag.”

“In April last year they did release the 15 journalists, who were arrested after the 2005 elections. However, there’s two points of concern with Ethiopia. At least seven of those journalists, who were released last year, felt compelled to leave the country because they received harassment and intimidation after their release. Another piece of concern that we’re really pushing for is licenses. I mean the government made a promise and a pledge to allow independent papers to have publishing licenses. But now we have a case where there are at least five publishers who wanted to produce three separate publications and they’re not allowed to do so,” he says.

The Committee to Protect Journalists in its recent report says 2007 was the deadliest year for journalists it ever recorded. More than 60 were killed in the line of duty.