Journalists murdered in Kenya, Somalia in past week; at least 68 killed in Africa over past five years

Africa's repression of journalists is concentrated in the Horn of Africa, and at least 165 journalists around Africa forced into exile since 2009.

This Sunday (May 3) is World Press Freedom Day, but been a bad week for journalists in Africa. The murder of a veteran Kenyan editor is the latest evidence of rising levels of intimidation and harassment of journalists in the country, bringing to 68 the number of journalists killed in Africa in the past five years.

John Kituyi, the founder of the western Kenya-based newspaper Mirror Weekly, was attacked late on Thursday as he was walking home in the town of Eldoret.

Kituyi’s family reported that he was found with a deep cut in his neck and bruises all over his body. The cause of death hasn’t been officially announced, but there is “a pattern of increasing threats, intimidation, and assault of journalists, which borders on impunity,” a statement on Friday from the Kenya Correspondents Association said.

In Burundi, the government blocked access to social media sites and shut down radio stations this week, in a bid to clamp down on opposition to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term bid, which protesters say is unconstitutional.

As of Friday, at least seven people had died and 66 others wounded in nearly a week of clashes between police and protestors.

On Wednesday night, unidentified gunmen shot dead Somali journalist Daud Ali Omar at his home in Baidoa, south central Somalia, according to local journalists and news reports. Daud, 35, was a producer for the pro-government, privately owned station Radio Baidoa, which covers regional violence and local politics.

Local journalists and police said they suspected the militant insurgent group Al-Shabaab was responsible for the attack and cited the station’s links to the government.

Data from CPJ shows that most of Africa’s repression of journalists is concentrated in the Horn and Eastern Africa, where a number of countries are led by repressive parties which came to power through a military struggle, or, in Somalia’s case, has suffered instability and conflict.

Although Eritrea is Africa’s most censored country, Somalia leads the continent in the number of journalists killed in the past five years, with Omar’s death bringing the total death toll since 2010 to 27.

In addition, at least 42 Somali journalists have been forced to go into exile since 2009, the highest in Africa according to CPJ. But this figure only includes those whom the organisation has assisted to flee, so the actual figure is likely to be much higher.

CPJ has helped 41 Ethiopian journalists flee into exile since 2009, and 23 from Eritrea, the second and third-highest in Africa. In total, the organisation records 165 journalists in Africa forced into exile in the past six years.

In Eritrea, only state media is allowed to disseminate news; the last accredited international correspondent was expelled in 2007. Even those working for the heavily censored state press “live in constant fear of arrest” for any report perceived as critical to the ruling party, says CPJ, or on suspicion that they leaked information outside the country. The last privately owned media outlets were suspended and their journalists jailed in 2001.

But the organisation highlights that imprisonment is the most effective form of intimidation and harassment used against journalists; 23 journalists are in jail in Eritrea, the highest in Africa - none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime, according to CPJ.

 In Ethiopia—number four on CPJ’s most censored list—the threat of imprisonment has contributed to a steep increase in the number of journalist exiles. 

Amid a broad crackdown on bloggers and independent publications in 2014, more than 30 journalists were forced to flee, CPJ research shows. Ethiopia’s 2009 anti-terrorism law, which criminalises any reporting that authorities deem to “encourage” or “provide moral support” to banned groups, has been levied against many of the 17 journalists in jail there.

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