Kenya: Protect right to free expression in wake of contested elections

Kenya: Protect right to free expression in wake of contested elections - Civic Space

On 8 August, Kenyans went to the polls to decide their next President and choose Members of County Assemblies, Members of the National Assembly, Women Representatives, Members of Senate, and Governors. There were eight presidential candidates, including frontrunners incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, and opposition candidate Raila Odinga. On Friday 11 August, despite uncertainties during the week and claims from Odinga of manipulation of the results to favour his competitor , the electoral management body, the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), declared that Kenyatta had won a second term.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the peaceful conduct of the elections, and the largely free and fair election process that saw an estimated 79.4 per cent of the 19,611,423 registered voters cast their vote. This was in spite of concerns around voter registration process that left out many eligible citizens, and limited voter education.

This year’s election marks a significant improvement on past general elections in the country, and the voting process was by and large transparent, free and fair, and adhered to principles of human rights and democracy. ARTICLE 19 election observers, as well as international and regional observers, noted that the process went well apart from a few reported minor incidents.

In light of the allegations made the National Super Alliance (NASA)  regarding the alleged hacking of the Kenya Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS) and manipulations of the voter results transmission system, ARTICLE 19 recommends that the IEBC commission an independent body to undertake a comprehensive review and makes public the findings as soon as possible. ARTICLE 19  recommends that the IEBC ensures greater clarity and transparency in the process of verification, transmission and tabulation of votes and proactively discloses relevant information.

While this year’s election has not seen a return to 2007’s post-election violence, which saw  more than 1,200 people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced, at least 24 people have been killed in election related violence since the vote. We call on Kenyan security forces to respect the right to peaceful protest and avoid the use of excessive force against protestors.

There have also been reports of journalists being harassed, beaten and detained for covering protests since the vote, including journalist Caleb Kingwara, who was attacked by youths allegedly affiliated to a candidate for a gubernatorial seat.

In June 2017, ARTICLE 19 and Human Rights Watch documented a worrying increase in harassment of journalists in Kenya in the run-up to the elections. We urge Kenyan security forces to ensure journalists are able to carry out their work and report on the election process and protests around it, and protect the public’s right to information at this critical time. All attacks on journalists must be fully and effectively investigated and perpetrators brought to justice, to address ongoing impunity for attacks on the press.

Despite the overall success of the vote, ARTICLE 19 is concerned about the high number of spoilt and rejected votes. It is estimated that about 400,000 votes (including 81,685 on the presidential poll) were rejected. This reflects a need for the IEBC to embark on more rigorous voter education to ensure that every citizen is able to participate fully in the elections process and that their vote counts.

Our monitors also noted that there is a lack of clarity on the handling of voters who need assistance such as the very old, the sick and people with disabilities. Issues such as access to stations and booths, and appropriate and effective voter assistance should be addressed. The IEBC must develop concrete guidelines on voter assistance and ensure full access to polling booths for all.

As opposition calls for strikes against the vote continue, ARTICLE 19 calls on the Kenyan government to respect the right to freedom of expression and information by ensuring the right to protest is protected, and journalists are able to carry out their work without threats or arrest.