New York, December 9, 2011—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the safety of Kenyan reporter Robert Wanyonyi who has been repeatedly threatened after covering a melee between police and local villagers that left as many as seven people dead.
On December 5, Wanyonyi, a reporter in the city of Bungoma West for The Standard and for the Nairobi-based private broadcaster Kenya Television Network (KTN), was called to Sirisia village in western Kenya to cover a violent fracas. Villagers had killed two people who had broken in to the Namang’ofulo Coffee Factory to steal coffee, according to news reports. That set off a violent confrontation between villagers and local authorities who started firing at the crowd and killed four people, news reports said. Police even shot at Wanyonyi’s car, the journalist said. He managed to avoid the attack and wrote two stories that night detailing how the robbery took place, he said. In the December 5 KTN broadcast, local residents claimed that District Commissioner Paul Merinyang was behind the attempted theft, news reports said.
On December 8, after Wanyoni wrote a follow-up story on the incident, an unidentified caller phoned him and told him to stop reporting on the district commissioner or “We will kill you and see whether KTN will bury you,” the journalist said. The same day, Wanyoni was followed by two police officers when he returned to Sirisia village to conduct follow-up interviews, according to member of Parliament Musikari Kombo, who was traveling with the journalist. Wanyoni said he was able to record the license plate of the police car.
On December 9, another anonymous caller told Wanyoni that he was “lucky” he had other people in his vehicle the previous day since their presence saved his life. The journalist said his email had been hacked and that he was now in hiding because of the threats.
“It is outrageous that Robert Wanyoni, who was simply doing his job, was subjected to intimidation and harassment by police,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “CPJ calls on authorities to make a credible investigation into these threats and allow Wanyonyi to carry out his work without harassment.”
In November, investigative KTN editor Mohammed Ali received death threats after he aired a series of stories on officials’ complicity in the drug trade, along Kenya’s coastline, according to local reports.