Kakuma News Reflector – A Refugee Free Press

Escalating Insecurity at KANERE

Posted in Human Rights, News Updates by KANERE on August 21, 2011

Serious threats have hindered smooth operation of KANERE, amplifying staff anxiety, and generating instability. 

On November 11th, 2009, the KANERE Press Editor was assaulted by three men whom he knew well. The assault ensued after he used a camera to take pictures of the fence that was burning around his house, located in camp residential plots. His case file, however, was destroyed by a police officer who is well known to KANERE. The case was not originally taken to court. No substantial response was provided upon follow-up from the editor. In one occasion in late 2010, a police inspector described KANERE journalists as “Spies in Kakuma.” Two other KANERE journalists filed complaints with the Officer Commanding Station (O.C.S) about similar threats and harassment. Yet O.C.S stated that the inspector was angry with journalists because he was mentioned in damaging reports published by KANERE. These reports detailed the increase in police abuse. The police inspector ultimately used his official power to completely destroy the case documents. The editor’s case was delayed until it was presented in court in March 2011 in a diluted and weakened form.

Another assault was attempted at the editor’s house in the camp settlement on February 11th, 2010. The disturbance transpired when two KANERE journalists were in an official meeting with UNHCR staff discussing documentary films. Justice was delayed once again. The case was taken to court on March 24th, 2010 after UNHCR had already resettled one of the suspects. KANERE’s inquiries on the case were thwarted when a police officer at the station reported predictably that the “case file is missing.” One of the journalists was advised to file another statement and open a new police file. Court proceedings were inevitably delayed, and the attempted assault was recently presented to court as a minor case. KANERE relentlessly pursued the circumstances under which the file “went missing” even though the police officers originally in charge of the case had already been transferred to another station.

Thousands of case records tracing back decades ago are available, but not KANERE’s case file from only a year ago. How this file went missing remains unanswered. KANERE journalists have come to believe that our existence is being systematically delegitimized as powerful and decision-making bodies are opposed to KANERE’s operation as an NGO. The safety of journalists continues to be in jeopardy.

The war you don’t see. 

KANERE was successful in lobbying for the arrest of one of the perpetrators, who was arrested on March 24th, 2011. Two hours after the suspect was taken to court, the editor received threats via mobile from his assailant in Australia. “If you don’t release her, we will make sure you are dead! Just wait, distance don’t matter, we can use any means and methods,” said the phone message. The death threats came from two mobile numbers: +61402667720 at 11:39 hrs- 00:02:23, 2 and +61421374538 at 11:49hrs- 00:04:27 local Kenya time. The phone death threats were witnessed by a staff member of an NGO in the compound who immediately emailed UNHCR Protection asking for better protection for the victim.

Early that morning three individuals who oppose freedom of press for KANERE went to UNHCR to ask for the release of the accused. The UNHCR protection official became involved by speaking to court officials. Eye witnesses told KANERE that these three individuals were allowed through the UNHCR main gate and talked with the officials in the unit for a long time. “We saw the trio. They were asking for withdrawal. The protection official talked to somebody in Lodwar about this matter,” Said Shama Tusaka, an Ethiopian waiting on the eligibility test.

It is unclear why UNHCR Kakuma has resettled a suspect in an active case before the Kakuma Resident Magistrate Court. This same suspect threatened the KANERE editor when his colleague was arrested. He was relocated to Australia and is currently funding groups that harass KANERE journalists. Camp governors stood in the sidelines watching the events unfold.

Neither the police nor UNHCR have responded to reports of death threats. According to a reliable, anonymous source, officials from the UNHCR Protection and the Security departments have made inquiries into KANERE’s cases following the alarm raised by KANERE supporters. KANERE has yet to be contacted, but the KANERE Editor was summoned to the police station a day after the UNHCR officials contacted the police.  “As critical thinkers and journalists, we see these threats to KANERE’s operations as delegitimizing our voice. We seek a better approach for making inquiries into and achieving resolutions to KANERE’s cases with the police,” said a member of KANERE’s Editorial Board.

The case of the death threats is not a singular incident. Similar episodes have been carried out by a few refugees in specific communities. Some leaders within the Oromo community, for example, have written false accusations against KANERE officials to several humanitarian agencies and to the police. Only one group within a small community was made to believe that the free press is jeopardizing their resettlement opportunities. KANERE has established good relationships and gained support from leaders representing communities from all nationalities in Kakuma.

After being summoned to the Kakuma police station on May 2nd, 2011, the KANERE Press Editor called UNHCR and the Department for Refugee Affairs (DRA) for help. Although UNHCR and DRA staff were concerned about the matter, they could not block the police summon despite the numerous complaints the editor had submitted to these offices. He was advised by an UNHCR Protection official not to respond to any of the police summons. That afternoon, the editor was accompanied to the police station by two prominent refugee community leaders, a sheikh and another KANERE journalist. The editor was interrogated for about 30 minutes. He was not given a clear answer upon asking why he was being interrogated. “We are guided by laws to ask any question to anyone,” said a police officer during the interrogation.

Although insecurity has intensified, it is not new. In the past we reported the death of a journalist from Kakuma News Bulleting (KANEBU). Mr. Stephen was killed at night by gunshot in July 2008. He was also a secondary school teacher of history at the now closed Bor-town Secondary School.  He was loved by refugees, who had nicknamed him “Comrade.” He, too, received threats before being killed at his residential house in Kakuma one. There was no official response following his death. After his burial, there was no formal investigation of his death. UNHCR was only able to provide resettlement for the family of the deceased.

KANERE has identified possible suspects in cases involving journalists between 2010 and 2011. The two KANERE journalists who were attacked left Kakuma due to lack of protection to find safety and security elsewhere. One of them was a Darfurian journalist and the other a former student at Makerere University in Uganda. Kenya hosts over 350,000 refugees. Decision-making on migrants and refugee affairs should be transparent and should provide better protection. The existence of the refugee humanitarian mode of power should not only involve dispensing large sums of money. It requires monitoring. It requires defining what is protection and what is moral. In this capacity, freedom of speech and freedom of press for KANERE is imperative for revealing the inside of the refugee warehouse.

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