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Media COVID-19 Response Team Worries Over Press Freedom Violations

The Media Sector Response Team (MESERT), established by various media stakeholders on March 18, 2020in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, has been monitoring and coordinating safety responses for journalists during this challenging.

MESERT is made up of the following key media stakeholders: Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA), Media Council of Kenya (MCK), Association of Freelance Journalists (AFJ), Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), Digital Broadcasters Association (DBA), IREX Kenya, Kenya Editors’ Guild (KEG) and Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ).

From the outset, MESERT made a number of recommendations to the office of the government spokesperson concerning media safety and practice in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The national government was urged to facilitate provision of live feeds to national and community media houses for public announcement, provide protective gear and other logistical supported for journalists.  The national government and Ministry of Health were urged to facilitate provision of official content on COVID-19 to media houses beyond advertising messages.

In light of the risks brought about by COVID-19, MESERT has made practical recommendations for media coverage.   They include doing a risk analysis before covering COVID-19 stories, disinfecting equipment such as microphones and cameras before and after use, canceling programs that require studio guests and audience presence and sending lean teams during live press conferences.  Journalists have also been advised to seek assistance if they detect and trauma symptoms related to COVID-19.

During this year’s World Press Freedom Day marked in May 3, 2020, under the theme:  ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’, media stakeholders focused on the pandemic through a series of activities and press statements.

On May 4, 2020, members of MESERT, along with other media stakeholders including UNESCO, participated in a webinar which attracted over 200 participants to mark the World Press Freedom Day.  The discussions focused on, among others, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected journalists.

The participants reflected on the problems faced by the media sector since the pandemic emerged and how it had hit Kenya, what interventions had been made by various actors and other suggestions and action plans were proposed to address the challenges.

According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2020, Kenya ranked number 103 out of 180 which is a drop from number 96 in 2019. Norway is number 1 and North Korea is number 180 in this Index.

A press statement issued by media stakeholders on the day highlighted cases of press freedom violations, poor working conditions, nonpayment of salaries and wages, mass sackings and harassment of journalists, which had escalated in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement indicated that the Media Council of Kenya had, since January, documented 34 cases of harassment of journalists, most of them affecting journalists who were on duty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was noted that cases of police harassment, intimidation, assault, and denial of access to information had increased. It was pointed out that some media managers were taking advantage of the pandemic to mishandle journalists and infringe their rights.

The statement said media stakeholders were concerned with rising cases of police brutality towards journalists and other forms of press freedom violations by the police and other actors, and had petitioned the Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai and the Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Noordin Haji.

The stakeholders called on the government and development partners to consider providing a stimulus package in a bid to secure jobs for journalists as part of the frontline workers in the efforts to deal with the pandemic.

In addition, journalists and media houses were called to remain ethical and accountable while reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly by being factual to help debunking fake news and misinformation that was noted to be on the rise.

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ICPC Calls for More Proactive and Strategic Response to Covid-19

May 12, 2020

Nairobi Kenya, 

International Center for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) has been monitoring government activities in to response the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya. We note that the government has no well-known comprehensive response strategy. Its response is dependent on impulse and wait attitude. It is not proactive and forward planning. Nobody knows what next step and what would inform that decision. This is making many Kenyans restless and anxious. Health measures taken like quarantine, curfews/lockdown and testing are seen more like security mission rather than health governance issue.  This has been exacerbated by deployment of force rather than civic education to the public.

The government has not kept the promise on mass testing, yet it is critical in determining the spread of the virus and designing effective response measures. There is very limited openness and transparency on the true budget and expenditure of resources on Covid-19. The government has adopted a “Harambee’ approach to funding Covid-19 response. This is very a weak and ineffective approach. Further, there are contradictory positions from within the Ministry of Health on budget expenditure. Nobody knows which budget has been allocated for what. This has raised grave concerns among Kenyans who are demanding open accountability. Nevertheless, the government needs to note that history shows that crises can also be times of political renewal, and stronger transparency and accountability which can strengthen the social contract.

Public money is being mobilized and diverted to fund Covid-19 emergency measures. The government needs to identify, approve, and implement emergency funding urgently. While unprecedented speed and magnitude of financial expenditure does not need to come at the expense of accountability, the risk of waste and misuse of public resources cannot be ignored. More so, the measures the government has taken so far and those to be taken later need to be cushioned on their impact on the economy.

The government policies and actions will determine how many lives are saved, how many people fall into poverty, and the shape of the society that emerges. These choices are too important to be made inexplicably and without public input, especially when inequality and perceived corruption have already undermined public trust in the government. Seek input and engage the public: Expand collaboration with civil society on monitoring the implementation of emergency and stimulus measures. Civil society can help governments conduct spot-checks to ensure that funding and services are reaching intended beneficiaries.

We note with concern that budget accountability systems have gaps even when they operate under less extreme conditions. The latest Open Budget Survey (OBS) finds that some of the weakest aspects of budget transparency and oversight are the ones that will be most critical for monitoring public resources during this emergency including disconnects between policies and budgets.

Whereas Covid-19 is a health crisis, it has severe social, economic and financial consequences to the livelihoods, incomes and jobs to millions of Kenyans. COVID poses a real challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030 because global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990 and, depending on the poverty line, such increase could represent a reversal of approximately a decade in the world’s progress in reducing poverty.

The government has not offered an appropriate plan to this dimension of the pandemic shock. In adapting to humans security Reponse to COVID-19 health and economic fallout, we are asking, what are the policy instruments necessary for the following?

a.      Strengthening the health systems to facilitate adequate transparent spending to prevent, detect, control, treat, and contain the virus; and guarantee health personnel all the necessary support they need for their own safety and doing their delicate work for the Kenyan people.

b.      The disruptions of supply chains for essentials by the Covid-19 pandemic are undeniable. This is health pandemic war. Government must offer concrete fiscal policies that will keep basic healthcare services, medical, food and retail supplies available during the corona virus pandemic

c.       Financial and relief measures on livelihood difficulties and access to basic services to majority of Kenyan people and their businesses that are devastatingly being ruined. Most goverments have avoided the route of money policy because it has little or no impact in solving the direct problems ordinary people are facing. People are directly concerned with would rent, food, loan payments holidays, medical care and personal security

d.      It is imperative government gives a clear health, fiscal and monetary continuity plan of the country during this uncertain corona virus pandemic period

In addition, the government should strengthen oversight during budget execution: Commit to having expedited auditing of emergency and stimulus funding, including extra-budgetary funding.  Accountability and oversight institutions must ensure that government is following transparency and openness rules, and publish and publicize reports and audit findings to the public as rapidly as possible so they can address government implementation issues during the response.

As the IMF Managing Director noted recently, exceptional times require exceptional action. Countries should focus on three priorities: Protect lives- That means countries should place health expenditures at the top of the priority list. Protect livelihoods- This means ensuring that the lifelines for households and businesses are available during this period of economic standstill. Most importantly, prepare for recovery. Countries should work with health professionals on planning the reopening they should also be ready for fiscal stimulus to lift demand and help the economy to come back. Once the current crisis subsides, countries will face unemployment and rising inequality, elevated debt levels and bankruptcies, so they must begin to put measures in place now to protect people against those challenges. The pace of economic recovery will depend on policies undertaken during this crisis. 

Finally, militarization of covid-19 in policing health guidelines has driven away Kenyans from cooperation and partnering with government. The use of quarantine as a quasi-legal penal environment especially for people who, even without the benefit of testing, are assumed to be infected because they were not wearing masks or were out after curfew hours, can fuel corruption in the security services enforcing these measures and also has the potential to undermine public sympathy for this measure. Quarantine should not be presented as detention, and responsibility for costs should lie with municipal and county authorities as provided for in law it times of public health crisis.

Thank you

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KENYAN CSOs CALL FOR INCLUSION, ACCOUNTABILITY IN COVID-19 RESPONSE

Suba Churchill, Convenor, Civil Society Organisations Reference Group -(CSO-RG)

Statement by Suba Churchill, 26th April, 2020

The Civil Society Reference Group calls for the inclusion of civil society actors and for greater accountability in the operations of the National Emergency Response Committee, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund Board, and any Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategy that may be formed to regain economic ground lost as a result of the devastating effects of the pandemic.

The CSRG is concerned that both the national government and county governments have systematically excluded civil society actors in the national and county emergency response teams formed to combat the spread and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.

It is ironic that the national and even county governments still find it difficult to incorporate NGOs and the wider civil society sector in their governance and development processes even as they continue to claim that the law has not been suspended when clamping on those who have breached curfew and other regulations put in place to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Article 10 of the Constitution provides for inclusivity and public participation among other national values and principles of governance yet both the national and county levels of government continue to proceed with the management of the COVID-19 situation without any regard to these essential values that are binding on the State, all State officers and public officers.

With the inclusion of only government and private sector actors in these bodies to be in charge of the enormous resources that have been mobilized for the purpose of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, exclusion of the civil society sector that has over the years served as the public watchdog on the management of such resources can only be construed to mean that there is no intent whatsoever for accountability in the management and disbursement of the public funds and other contributions from bilateral and multilateral sources to respond to the emergency.

In order to inspire public confidence and ensure greater transparency and accountability in the collection, storage and disbursement of any funds, material goods, and foodstuffs received, the CSRG calls on the government to establish as a matter of urgency a digital portal or platform that will enable ordinary citizens, the general public and their civil society formations to monitor and track the movement and use of such resources in the interest of transparency and accountability as contemplated in Article 10 of the Constitution.

It is not enough to publicly announce that over Kshs 40 billion has been used so far in the management of COVID-19 situation as the government did last week without making available any publicly verifiable evidence to back the claim and the public has every right and reason to doubt and treat such claims by the government with the biggest pinch of salt that their hands can hold because there is no oversight within the bodies that have been established to manage the resources and make decisions over their acquisition and appropriation.

Kshs 40 billion is not a small change that only representatives of the government and the private sector can spend without bothering to be accountable to the public and being more inclusive in the composition of the bodies charged with making crucial decisions on how to spend it.

And it is not that there is a shortage of credible public benefit organizations that can serve in such bodies at the national and county level. The only reason for their inclusion is that the national and county governments want to be as opaque as they have always been and avoid transparency and accountability at all costs even in light of their professed commitment to fighting corruption in the public spheres of life.

Were it not so, the national government would have easily thought of including such credible organizations as Transparency International – (TI) Kenya Chapter, International Budget Institute (IBI), and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in the management of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund Board.

There are also a number of credible local and international NGOs working in the health sector that according to a report published by the government’s own sector regulator – the Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Board on 28th January 2020, spent more than Kshs 13, 026, 111, 023.85 in the 2018/19 financial year on health-related services in the country. 

This report was launched by none other than the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government Dr. Fred Matiang’ i, further dispelling any notion out there that the government has no knowledge of these indisputable facts.

Indeed, among the key actors that made the significant contributions highlighted above are such organizations as World Vision Kenya Kshs 5, 937,281,718.00); Compassion International Kshs 4,090,505,263.23) GiveDirectly Kenya (Kshs 3,331,258,138.00); Centre for Health Solutions – Kenya (Kshs 2, 710, 532,946.00); AMREF Health Africa in Kenya (Kshs 2,651,726,999.91); African Academy of Sciences (Kshs 2,102,639,959.90); Plan International (Kshs 2,007,130,888.00); Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) (Kshs 1,808,408,610.00); Population Services Kenya (Kshs 1,706,673,003.00); Save the Children International – Kenya (Kshs 1,600,008,287.97); Family Health International – Kenya (Kshs 1,335,476,513.00) and Ima World Health (Kshs 1,169,396,602.00) among many others.

The CSRG is of the view that any number of representatives of these organizations can serve competently in the National Emergency Response Committee, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, and any post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategy framework that may be formed to help the country regain lost ground in the health, education, and other social and economic spheres of life.

Signed by:

Suba Churchill

Presiding Convener

Civil Society Reference Group

E-mail: suba.churchill@civilsocietyrg.org

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Rights Coalition says Tanzanian Media Laws Violate Human Rights

Statement by THRDC

On the 3 rd of May every year, nations worldwide mark World Press Freedom Day. This is a special opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of press freedom and to remind governments around the world, their duty to respect and uphold the right to free expression and the right to information deeply embedded in the Regional and International Treaties. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”.

Internationally, the Press Freedom hinges on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states; “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. These freedoms are also protected under Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and also other provisions of the Regional Human Rights Mechanisms including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

While freedom of the Press is on paper guaranteed at regional, national and international levels, the situation on the ground often proves otherwise.

The constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, for instance, expressly states in Article 18, every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression of his ideas. The Constitution further states every person has the right to seek and disseminate information regardless of the national boundaries.

Although a free Press is considered an important pillar for democracy, journalists worldwide still face barriers that impede their work. In Tanzania, the government has over the years enacted numerous draconian laws that make it increasingly hard for journalists to freely operate without offending authorities.

These laws, including the Media Services Act of 2016, the Cybercrime Act of 2015, and the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations (EPOCA) – 2017 not only infringe upon basic rights to information as spelled out in the constitution, but also instill fear among journalists.

For example, the Media Services Act, gives the minister responsible for information sweeping powers and the whim to suspend newspapers if he/she is of the opinion that they’ve contravened the law. These legal hurdles are an affront to Press Freedom and blatantly violate basic rights of journalists.

In its 2019 Situation of Human Rights Defenders Report (2019) the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRD) recorded 36 incidents of violations against journalists. The report highlights an increase of such rights violation incidents from 26 recorded in 2018.

With reference to this years’ theme of the World Press Freedom Day, responsible authorities must effectively address these challenges. Improvement of the situation will encourage journalism without fear or favour.

As the world commemorate the International Press Freedom Day on Sunday, 3rd  of May 2020, it is important to remind ourselves, about the looming danger posed by coronavirus pandemic (COVID -19), which took the entire world by surprise.

Ever since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the highly contagious disease a pandemic on 11th March 2020, there has been coordinated response among nations to deter the deadly disease. Some of immediate measures taken by states include travel ban, halting public engagements and observing social distancing.

Moreover, in an attempt to curb the disease, the states have used numerous laws to prevent circulation of fake news and information through online platforms and traditional media. These measures, in retrospect negatively affected citizen’s right to free expression as well as freedom of the Press.

As it is everywhere in the world Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), including Journalists in Tanzania face many challenges, in the course of fulfilling their duties due to COVID 19 pandemic. For example, most journalists are not well informed and often not fully equipped when gathering news in an environment where social distancing is highly encouraged.

Reports suggest, there are four major alarming civic space trends in relation to the measures taken against COVID – 19 Pandemic in the World such as: unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship; detentions of activists for disseminating critical information; crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets; as well as violations of the right to privacy.

As the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic intensifies, the THRDC has recorded numerous incidents of violations against freedoms of opinion and expression. Some of these incidents include the arrest of six people including the arrest of 4 journalists who were reporting and giving their candid opinion about the pandemic, while 4 media outlets were stringently finned.

In line with WHO directives on principles of transparency, and accountability, these rights must be protected as we fight Covid-19. In addition to that, when responding to the concerns of the public the government is required to act in an effective, satisfactory, timely and transparent manner.

This will ensure that, the stakeholders and the general public have clear understanding of their specific roles. THRDC recommends the following:

i. To the government

The Government should continue to take appropriate steps to improve working environment for journalists at the same time guarantee media freedom.

It is important that the government makes relevant amendments to the Media Services Act, Access to Information Act, Cyber Crimes Act and the Online Content Regulations (EPOCA) in accordance with stakeholder’s recommendations and present them in the parliament, so that the Media fraternity to be properly regulated as per agreed international standards.

The Government should observe the highest degree of transparency, by frequently giving public information about the pandemic. Such a move will greatly discourage individuals who post false information in the social media. We advise the Government to do away with the current developing trend of arresting journalists and other individuals who give their opinion and challenge the way COVID-19 is being managed in Tanzania. It should be noted that, this is part of their duty in accordance with the principle of accountability currently being emphasized by the United Nations.

We advise the government to work on those constructive criticisms and fair opinion from active citizens and use them in the fight against COVID 19.

ii. To the media

As we take necessary precautions against COVID 19, the THRDC is calling upon journalists to take precaution exercise great care when reporting. Tanzania media houses should come up with a coherent news reporting strategy, while strictly observing proper self-regulation.

Editors and journalists must strictly adhere to professional ethics when reporting news about Covid -19.

iii. To the public

The public should strictly observe all the directives given by medical professionals and the government to stop further spread of the disease. The public should stop sharing fake information. They should instead responsibly use online media to mobilize use of best preventive mechanisms in accordance with the laws governing information sharing.

Issued on 3rd  May, 2020

By;

Signed

Onesmo Olengurumwa

National Coordinator

Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition

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CSOs call for debt relief and transparency in fight against COVID-19

By Derick Ngaira (TISA)

Civil society organizations under the banner Okoa Uchumi Coalition today are urging the government to expedite the process of seeking debt relief and practice full transparency and accountability in the management and spending of all support received to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

This comes a day after Kenya received a Sh78.4 billion ($739 million) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help cushion the economy from the fallout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We wish to reiterate that transparency and accountability are key in ensuring that the existing emergency funds and the funding IMF is disbursing to Kenya goes to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable due to the pandemic,” reads a statement shared by the coalition.

With the National Treasury anticipating additional loan from World Bank to hit its target of Sh122.5 billion ($1.15 billion) to support virus-damaged economy, the CSOs want the government to use all means to protect and boost its limited resources to slow and stop the pandemic and avert economic collapse.

According to the group, outbreak of COVID-19 has come at a time when the economy of Kenya is extremely vulnerable due to high debt repayment demands. They now want the government to immediately make available additional financing through seeking further movement on debt relief.

“The government should formally request debt payment suspension to make use of the G20 agreement reached in April 2020. We also hope to see the IMF extend debt relief to Kenya through its Containment and Catastrophe Relief Trust which it has already granted relief to 25 countries with. The IMF should also support Kenya to discuss debt relief with the World Bank and other multilateral and private creditors which have not made any commitments yet,” the coalition notes.

The group also wants the government to ensure openness in contracting of emergency response activities. This they say will be through ensuring open contracting measures are adhered to by timely publishing procurement plans and notices—including the name of awarded companies and of beneficial owners.

And to ensure that the government’s cash transfer program benefits those in informal settlement and casual workers in the country, Okoa Uchumi Coalition has proposed triangulation of county level data sources including community health, county social services, county chiefs, village elders and local NGO’s/CBO’s.

“The status of household vulnerability should be closely monitored through the same community structures,” the CSOs add.

The Coalition has however warned that the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy would be severe as a result of “a depressed economic environment, historic underinvestment in the health sector, a large unsupported informal sector, high food prices and depleted strategic grain reserves, all exacerbated by the failure to curb corruption and financial mismanagement.”

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Journalists Reporting Covid-19 Face Threats and Suppression

By Civicspace (TZ) Reporter

The Corona virus that caused Covid -19 disease is a global threat not only to the health and economy sector, but even to the media industry and political arena.

Journalists all over the world are facing new threats as they report corona virus pandemic that has killed more than 230,000,000 people globally.

African journalists, Tanzania in particular are increasingly harassed or threatened by security services and government officials while reporting the news during the Covid -19 era.

In Tanzania the Corona virus has led to threats and suppression of freedom of expression to the journalists, opposition politicians and human rights defenders when they report news or taking an action in combating this pandemic disease.

Some of them found themselves threatened or arrested by state organs on the condition that they take measures to control corona virus infections, thus affecting freedom of information and expression as stipulated in the article 18 of the Constitution of United Republic of Tanzania of 1977.

In accordance with the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, there are international treaties and regional treaties that protect freedom of expression that includes Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

Others are the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981) and Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa just to mention a few.

Among the press freedom violations issues linked to Covid -19 coverage is the arrest of famous advocates and human right defender Albart Msando, shortly after handing over protective gears including mask to the Arusha regional Press Club, Northern part of Tanzania.

The journalists in the country are among the group of people who are at risk to be infected with Corona virus due to poor working environment and most of them lack protective gears.

This is due to some of the employers do not want to buy corona viruses protective gears such as mask to their workers instead they want to buy it for themselves.

Speaking during the handing over the protective gears to the journalists in Arusha region, Advocates Msando said the situation is serious and called on member of the press to let the community know the truth on Covid-19 disease.

“Journalists you have no need to go back and afraid to tell the truth, if you fail to do that the whole nation would be destroyed, this is your chance, if you do not seek out the truth the disease will not go away easily. The first and most important weapon fighting Covid-19 is information,” said Msando.

The statements of Advocates Msando comes at a time when there is speculation that the government is hiding accurate statistics of people infected or dying with Covid -19 disease.

According to statistics released by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa up to April 28 this year, 480 people have been infected with corona virus and 16 of them are dead.

There have also unconfirmed reports that the governments authorities secretly buried people died from the disease. Advocates Msando has been arrested by police on charges of making inflammatory remarks.

A part from that, on 30th April, this year the Chairperson of Journalists Workers of Tanzania (JOWUTA) and also Chairperson of Arusha regional Press Club Mr. Claud Gwandu was ordered to report police station in Arusha region with the connection of distribution of masks to the journalists.

Mr. Gwandu reported to the police in Arusha region where he was later told to go on with his duties.

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Enforcement of COVID-19 laws must be reasonable and just

Social media has been abuzz with Kenyans complaining of state heavy-handedness while enforcing regulations designed to curb COVID-19, such as the requirement of wearing facemasks while in public; the national 7.00pm to 5.00am curfew and certain travel restrictions.

Kenyans have complained of being arrested even before the curfew; while others claim to have been caught up because of medical emergencies or unfortunate events such as vehicle breakdowns. Some essential service providers such as medics have been harassed and beaten during curfew despite being exempt; others have complained of wrongful arrest, assault, extortion and quarantine.

On the other hand, there have several instances where Kenyans have been caught blatantly flaunting social distancing and curfew rules such as throwing parties, weddings and religious ceremonies. These actions paint a bleak picture regarding whether Kenyans have truly internalised the existential threat that the coronavirus poses.

As a result of the arrogance and carelessness displayed by some, the government recently announced that those found outside of their houses during the curfew period would be assumed to have contacted coronavirus and hence placed under quarantine for 14 days.

Although the measure is understandably supposed to be a deterrent to Kenyans who are minded to violate government initiatives to curb the coronavirus, it raises fundamental issues regarding the constitutionality of the directive keeping in mind that laws must be clear, reasonable, necessary and proportionate and pursue a legitimate aim. If a law fails in any of these limbs, then it is unconstitutional.

Firstly, it raises pertinent issues regarding the rights of persons arrested and the right to a fair trial because the constitution requires all arrested persons to be presented before a court within 24 hours and entitles them to bail and bond. The Public Health Act also requires such persons to be arrested, charged and possibly fined KES 1000. Moreover, only a court of law can allow the government to hold a person beyond this period in very specific circumstances.

Secondly, many question the rationale by the state that flaunting curfew means a person is likely infected thereby justifying forced 14-day quarantine. Does the fact that you were outside past 7.00pm have a measurable correlation with a person’s likelihood of infection – or is it a government ploy to extra-judicially punish those flaunting regulations?

Thirdly, the KES20,000 fine for failure to wear a facemask may be considered overkill, considering that 37% of Kenyans live on less than two dollars a day. It is noteworthy that facemasks are scarce and expensive. This may cause the manufacture of cheap, low-quality facemasks, recycling of disposable facemasks or individuals reusing their facemasks because they cannot afford.

There is mounting evidence that police are using the harsh curfew provisions and the punitive punishment regarding facemasks to extort Kenyans. The prospect of paying KES 20000 or being forcedly quarantined is motivation enough to bribe an officer to let you go.

Kenyans have criticised police for enforcing the COVID-19 laws without observing the very regulations that they are enforcing. Most do not wear facemasks, gloves, and do not observe WHO rules on social distancing. They are often seen moving in crowded vehicles and are very hands-on when arresting members of the public, thereby exposing themselves to infection.

The irony is that the officers will interact and expose themselves to those violating regulations and proceed to deliver them to quarantine centres, while they, now exposed, continue interacting with other Kenyans in the line of duty.

Several state-run quarantine centres, mostly schools and government institutions, have also been criticised for unsuitable for isolation and quarantining due to the close proximity among those in quarantine; the dormitory layout; sanitation standards; and, the sharing of amenities such as toilets and showers.

The priority of every government intervention should be to save lives by slowing the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring adequate treatment of those infected. Part of this includes mandatory quarantine to prevent spread to the general population. A bare minimum of such facilities is the real isolation of people for the required duration. To put people in a dormitory-like setting where toilets and bathrooms are shared completely defeats the purpose of the exercise.

There is now a need for a delicate balance of public safety and public health. The government needs to deploy deliberate and judicious approaches in its interventions. If someone is found outside during curfew, the officers involved must be humane and use common sense to verify the reasons for violation of curfew.

The state should borrow the “first do no harm” the principle which requires that all interventions must not cause further or unnecessary damage or suffering.

For instance, if a police officer found a mother and her two children hastily running towards their house at 7.07pm: should the officer arrest them and take them for 14-day quarantine for violating curfew or should he allow them to get home? Would their arrest benefit anyone?

Demas Kiprono
Constitutional & Human Rights Lawyer
Email: demaslaw@gmail.com

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KCA launches Initiative to Enhance CSO-Media Partnership in Defending Civic Space in East Africa

Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) has launched an initiative to enhance partnership between the media and the civil society sector in defending the civic space in East Africa.

The initiative is supported by the International Center for Non Profit Law (ICNL), a US based organization that has been working with partners in the region to protect civic space, which has increasingly come under threat from both state and other actors.

The project focuses on two key areas: Improving CSO – Media Relations to better defend civic space and Redefining narratives and perceptions of civil society and the media.

Speaking at the launch of the project in Nairobi during a CSO-Media Dialogue Forum on February 27, 2020, William Oloo Janak, the KCA Chairman said:

“Defending the civic space, which includes press freedom, requires a sustained partnership between civil society organizations and the media to push back the determined efforts by the states and other powerful actors who are keen to limit the enjoyment of civil liberties by citizens.”

He said the media had a critical role of agenda setting, influencing opinion, perceptions, policy and legislation through projecting progressive voices and advocacy in the push back against the onslaught on the civic space.             

Janak said CSOs have been on the vanguard of the fight against human rights abuses and bad governance, adding that their capacity in research, strategy and advocacy were useful in the fight to safeguard the civic space and in helping the media frame the correct narratives and information to the public.  

The launch in Nairobi, which was attended by 30 participants drawn from the CSO and media sectors, reviewed the civic space environment in Kenya and proposed strategies for closer collaboration between the media and civil society sectors in Kenya, and synergy with the same sectors in the region.

The initiative proposes regular and sustained engagement between the media and the CSO sector in the efforts at safeguarding the civic space.

“Sustained partnership and collaboration between the media and the CSO sector will help redefine narratives and perceptions about the two sectors in the eyes of the public, the states and other sectors of the society, including the international community, and emphasize the important role they play,” added Janak.

He noted that there were credible examples of how partnership between the CSO and media sectors had provided great momentum for fundamental reforms, protection of the fundamental rights of citizens and promotion of good governance and democracy, both in the East Africa Region and globally.

KCA’s initiative, whose pilot phase will be implemented within the next six months includes convening media- CSO dialogue forums in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to review the civic space environment and develop strategies for sustained partnership and alliance.  

The project will also map out the media landscape in the three countries and identify and build a network of civic space protection champions within the media outlets to help in packaging and disseminating appropriate messaging.

KCA, a journalists’ organization with more than 500 members in Kenya, most of them grassroots based journalists, has been involved in promoting media –CSO alliance on governance, policy and legal reforms. It has also been an active player within the Civic Space Protection Platform in Kenya and the East Africa Region.