Machete attack on Kenyan reporter in run-up to election

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a machete attack on a reporter working for Kenya’s biggest media group and voices concern about an increase in violence in the run-up to next month’s presidential election.

Ian Byron, The Nation newspaper’s only reporter in the southern town of Migori, sustained a machete wound to his left leg when attacked by two masked men on a motorcycle, who intercepted him as he was returning home on 10 July.

“In a country where journalists are often victims of electoral violence, the brutality of this attack sends a very worrying signal.” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “With just weeks to go to Kenya’s presidential election, particular attention must be paid to attacks on journalists and they must receive a response commensurate with what is at stake, or else they could multiply. The perpetrators of this attack must be quickly identified and arrested.”

Although his attackers have yet to be identified, Byron told RSF that the attack was almost certainly related to his political reporting in the run-up to the 9 August presidential election, in which Raila Odinga, the leader of the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), is running against William Ruto, the candidate of the ruling United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

A few days before the attack, Suna East MP Junet Mohammed, one of the ODM’s leaders in the National Assembly, had complained bitterly about a story by Byron in the 4 July issue of The Nation, which is owned by the very influential Nation Media Group (NMG), East Africa’s biggest privately-owned press group.

The story, which was immediately taken down as a result of the complaint, had reported that Mohammed was distributing food earmarked for humanitarian aid to help ensure his reelection as MP. The day after the article was published (and then removed), Mohammed and Byron spoke by telephone to “clarify” the situation.

While in a shopping centre in Migori on 6 July, Byron was approached by a known supporter of Mohammed, who told him to “go slow in your work.” Fearing for his safety, Byron decided that he would go into the town as little as possible and did not return until 10 July, when he needed to make a few purchases.

As he was returning home by motorcycle, two men on another motorcycle – one of them armed with a machete – signalled to him to stop. After he ignored their request, the armed man tried to deliver a machete blow to his neck. Byron dodged the blow and headed into the bush in an attempt to escape, but his assailants followed him and managed to deal a machete blow to his left leg.

Kenya’s presidential elections are often accompanied violence that does not spare journalists. In a first for Africa, the 2017 election had to be cancelled and reheld because of the violence with which the initial results were disputed. Attacks on reporters covering the election campaign were particularly violent.

Draconian restrictions were placed on journalists, including a ban on reporting unofficial results and a requirement to keep all notes and recordings. Four TV channels were suspended when they defied a ban on broadcasting unsuccessful opposition candidate Raila Odinga’s mock “swearing-in ceremony.”

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Updated on 22.07.2022