Kenya: Religious leaders are public figures and should tolerate a high level of criticism
27 Jul 2012
ARTICLE 19 is increasingly concerned about threats and attacks against journalists in Kenya who report on matters of public interest involving religious leaders.
On 29 June 2012, Erasto Agwanda Saye, a journalist based in Kisumu, was physically attacked after writing an article alleging that an ‘Overseer’ (or pastor) in the ‘Power of Jesus Around the World Church’ was engaged in adultery. Saye reported that church-goers were criticising the appointment of the new Overseer, who they claimed was a serial ‘wife-inheritor’ and adulterer. When Saye asked for comment from the Bishop who made the appointment, he was warned of ‘dire consequences’ should he report the story. In a text message to Saye the Bishop wrote ‘Try and write the story, you will know who I am.’ Saye’s attackers have been arrested and charged with beating the journalist.
On 22 July 2012 two Nation TV journalists were threatened after attending a church service before ‘Fire Ministries Church’ Pastor, Michael Njoroge. The journalists were pursuing a story that Njoroge had paid prostitutes to falsely claim that they had been healed after receiving prayers from him. Njoroge warned the journalists that they would ‘eat grass’ (meaning they would be cursed and equated to an animal) and suggested that he could invoke the power of God to transfer illness to those who challenged him. The threats were later broadcasted on Nation TV.
ARTICLE 19 is concerned both by the threatened and actual violence against journalists in these cases, as well as the underlying reasoning that religious leaders should not be offended nor criticised in the media.
The right to freedom of expression protects not only the expression of information and ideas that are favourably received but also those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Freedom of expression can indeed be restricted if it is necessary to do so to protect the rights of others. However, public figures are legitimately subjected to criticism and should, given their position, role and influence, tolerate increased public scrutiny. Religious leaders are public figures as they play a role in public life. Therefore ARTICLE 19 affirms that certain aspects of their private lives may be of legitimate public interest and justify journalistic enquiry. The issue of alleged corruption in the functioning of churches in Kenya is topical and of real public interest.
The Human Rights Committee has made it clear that under no circumstances can an attack on a person for exercising freedom of expression be justified. ARTICLE 19 recalls the Joint Declaration of 25 June 2012 on Crimes Against Freedom of Expression which calls on States to create a new category of ‘crimes against freedom of expression’. Governments are under a duty to prevent, prohibit and protect people from, such crimes. International human rights law not only protects individuals from rights-violations by the State but also obliges the State to protect individuals from violations of their rights by other private individuals.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Resolution on the Safety of Journalists and Media Practitioners in Africa also notes that press freedom and freedom of expression can only be enjoyed when journalists are free from pressure, intimidation and coercion. Violence and other crimes against those exercising their right to freedom of expression, particularly journalists who investigate corruption and other issues of public interest, has a chilling effect on the free-flow of information.
ARTICLE 19 therefore calls upon the Kenyan Government to ensure that any allegations of threats or attacks on journalists are promptly and properly investigated. Perpetrators must be prosecuted and victims must be offered appropriate redress and remedy, whether civil or criminal, in order to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and, in particular, media freedom.
- A wife- or widow-inheritance is the practice in which a man inherits the widow of his deceased brother or other close relative. Originally a protective custom, reports abound that it is much abused and women are forced into sexual relations and, if inheritance is refused, women can be driven out of their communities.
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