BY CHARLES OGALLO
Kenyan Journalists are set to enjoy a rare privilege of getting free legal and medical support after National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya (NCHRD-K), announced its programmes.
The Nairobi based Coalition of local civil societies, says it recognizes journalists as human rights defenders also need to be protected in their lines of duty.
With this in place journalists facing legal, medical or socio-economic challenges will only need to notify the organization for support which entails legal and medical, psychosocial and relocation assistance, says Gloria Madegwa, the Defenders Coalition programmes coordinator.
She adds the program has so far managed to support a number of independent journalists from across the country to access justice, particularly those faced with threats of being arrested or sued for doing their work.
Speaking recently during the Women Human Rights Defenders and Journalists conference in Nairobi, the programmes coordinator said their Coalition recognizes journalists as human rights defenders who need to be protected from socio-economic challenges and persecutions during their work.
Kamau Ngugi, the NCHRD-Kenya executive director echoed Madegwa’s sentiment saying journalists like any other human rights defenders play vital roles in promoting and safeguarding human rights protection agenda, including the right to privacy, freedom of expression and right to access information in the country therefore should be recognized and protected accordingly.
He called on local journalists particularly independent journalists/freelance including correspondents to take advantage of the new support program and report boldly but objectively on issues that promote the protection of fundamental rights of Kenyans as enshrined in the constitution including rights to privacy, access to information and freedom of expression.
“Journalists you’re at a better place and opportunity to help Kenyans understand and express themselves on current public debate on right to privacy in this digital era where privacy was becoming a major challenge even here in Kenya following the ongoing plans to reintroduce the controversial Huduma Namba registration countrywide,” Ngugi said.
The rights defenders’ protection program offers legal assistance to human rights defenders including activists facing arbitral arrests and malicious prosecutions from the state by providing them with advocates to represent them at places of detention and courts or/and provides bail, according to Gloria Madegwa.
She added that the Coalition which has worked to see rights defenders work in a conducive environment will undertake trial observation of cases that involve human rights defenders to ensure that the judicial process is free and fair.
The Coalition has managed to relocate individual journalists particularly those reporting sensitivity investigative stories when they are faced with threats and intimidations.
In order to protect journalists and other human rights defenders exposed to threats and high levels of risk and require to be relocated, the program coordinator says Coalition would be ready to do so locally, regional or international depending on the gravity of the case or threat.
“This is normally a short-term measure put in place while other strategies are pursued and during such periods of absence from routine work, the Coalition often arrange for the affected journalists / human rights defenders to be attached with another organization to ensure human rights work is not disrupted or to gain some skills,” she said.
The Coalition also caters for the well-being of human rights defenders including independent journalists, community-based activists working on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, environmental activists and women’s rights activists across the country.
“HRDs who are exposed to incidences of torture, gender-based violence, assault or extra-judicial executions, to name but a few of the most serious human rights violations that HRDs fight against, often find that their work is taking a toll on their emotional well-being. Defenders Coalition engages the services of counselors to offer counseling support in such situations” added Madegwa.
In addition to analyzing Human Rights Defenders’ working environment on an ongoing basis and developing security strategies, the Coalition undertakes risk assessment and fact-finding missions on reported cases of threats and violations of Human Rights Defenders’ rights, to ensure their safety and bring those responsible to justice.
The Coalition will also offer Medical support to injured or sick journalists/human rights defenders in line of duty Medical support either covers payment for medical services and/or medicine for a Human Rights Defender and families.
Kenya Correspondents Association national chairman Mr Oloo Janak welcomed the move saying this would go a long way in addressing challenges facing Kenyan journalists particularly correspondents and freelancers.
Jamal said he was sure the support program would help cushion many independent journalists and correspondents facing legal and medical challenges as well as protecting them from persecutions.
He, however, challenged journalists, correspondents in particular to report objectively and fearlessly on matters fundamental rights of Kenyans and public interests including rights to privacy and freedom of expression in order to help them in making bold and sound decisions in the society.