Reporters Without Borders condemns the Kenyan army’s abuse of authority and physical mistreatment of journalists trying to cover a military sweep against a civilian militia in the western Mount Elgon region, and calls on the civilian authorities to ensure that the rights of the of the media are respected.
“Firstly, Kenyans have a right to know what is going on in their country when the army carries out operations of this scale, so it is unacceptable that the media are being sidelined,” the press freedom organisation said. “Secondly, there is no excuse for soldiers to use force against the media. Journalists are protected by laws and conventions which the military are required to respect. It is the job of Kenya’s civilian authorities to ensure the military realise this.”
The military are conducting their sweep against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SDLF), an armed group that was blamed for a dozen ethnic murders at the start of the month. Operating out of bases in the forest above the locality of Cheptais, the SDLF claims to defend land owned by a clan that belongs to the Kalenjin ethnic group.
Cameraman Bakari Juma of privately-owned NTV was arrested while filming troop movements on 13 March and was taking to a military base at Kaptoka, where his camera was confiscated.
The day before, several journalists were mistreated by soldiers near Cheptais after the army decided to exclude the press from the area of operations. Reporter Sammy Cheboi of the Nation Media Group and NTV cameraman Hillary Obinda were arrested on the road between Cheptais and Lwakhakha, were forced to kneel and were slapped several times. Soldiers confiscated their cameras and deleted what they had shot. Finally, they returned their equipment and ordered them to leave the area and not return.
The army sealed off the entire region and, in front of journalists, even refused to let members of the International Committee of the Red Cross have access to the area.