Nairobi, September 6, 2018–Authorities in Kenya should carry out a thorough investigation and bring to justice those responsible for the September 3 assault and abduction of Daily Nation journalist Barrack Oduor and the death of his source, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Oduor said he was working on a story about a woman who alleged she had been impregnated and abandoned by a prominent politician in Migori County in western Kenya. Oduor and the woman, university student Sharon Otieno, went to meet Michael Oyamo, Migori Governor Okoth Obado’s personal assistant, who was supposed to provide a response to the allegations, according to reports by the privately owned Daily Nation and The Star newspapers.
When they met, Oyamo directed Otieno and Oduor into a vehicle where their phones were taken away. They were subsequently assaulted, with the journalist only managing to escape because he jumped out of the moving vehicle, according to Tom Mshindi, editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group, Daily Nation’s parent company, with whom CPJ spoke, and multiple media reports. The body of Otieno, who was seven months pregnant, was yesterday found badly mutilated in Kodera Forest in neighboring Homa Bay County. Her father identified her body, according to reports by the Daily Nation and The Star.
“We urge police to thoroughly and independently investigate this case, and to bring to account those responsible for the assault and abduction of Barrack Oduor and the death of his source, Sharon Otieno,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Otieno’s death is extremely troubling, and suggests that the journalist’s abductors may have meant to do him far worse harm.”
According to his colleagues, Oduor has yet to replace the phone that his abductors confiscated, and CPJ’s attempts to reach Oduor through journalists in Nyanza region, which includes Migori and Homa Bay counties, were unsuccessful on September 4 and September 5.
In a statement yesterday, national government spokesperson Eric Kiraithe said the circumstances of Otieno’s death “distinctly point to murder” and that the abduction of Oduor, “who was in the course of his duties as a journalist” was “actually an attempted murder.”
Nicholas Anyuor, a spokesperson for Migori County, on September 4 told CPJ that the governor’s office had not been involved in the assault or abduction of Otieno and Oduor.
The Daily Nation reported yesterday that Otieno had given the journalist “information about an affair that left her pregnant and that the man responsible had turned his back on her.” Oduor told the privately owned Standard newspaper that he had been pursuing a story of “a love gone sour between a university student and a prominent politician.” The Standard further reported that the student had been impregnated by the politician, without naming him.
The Daily Nation reported that Otieno called Oduor on September 3 and told him that the governor’s assistant was ready to meet to discuss the story. When Otieno and Oduor met Oyamo at a hotel in Rongo town in Migori County later that evening, Oyamo requested a venue change and directed Otieno and Oduor to a waiting vehicle that already had two other occupants, a driver and a front-seat passenger, according to the Daily Nation. Oduor, Oyamo, and Otieno sat in the back seat and the vehicle drove a few meters before Oyamo got out and two more unknown men entered, “sandwiching” Otieno and Oduor between them as the vehicle drove off, according to Mshindi.
Oduor told the Daily Nation that the two unknown men in the car were initially friendly; however, they later confiscated Otieno and Oduor’s phones. About 70 kilometers from Rongo, they started assaulting Oduor and Otieno, attempting to strangle the journalist, according to the same source. Oduor fought back, managed to open the car’s door, and jumped out of the moving vehicle. Mshindi told CPJ that the journalist sustained tissue injuries to his knees and hands. A Nyangweso resident drove Oduor to a local police post and later that evening he was transferred to Kendu Bay Police Station, where he recorded a statement about the incident, according to the Daily Nation.
Migori County government spokesperson Anyuor on September 4 told CPJ that the governor’s office had not been aware of the assault and abduction until it was reported by news sites and claimed that the reports were merely a “political ploy” meant to damage the reputation of Obado. When CPJ yesterday asked him if the county government was carrying out any internal investigation, Anyuor said that they had decided to leave the matter to the police.
Oyamo was arrested on September 4 in connection with the attack on Oduor and Otieno, and is being held at a police station in Homa Bay, according to reports by Daily Nation and The Star. Michael Barasa, head of the Nyanza region directorate of criminal investigation, told CPJ on September 4 that he could not provide any updates on the investigation except to say that it was ongoing. Kenya’s director of criminal investigation, George Kinoti, yesterday told the Standard newspaper that a team of detectives had been sent from the capital, Nairobi, to Homa Bay to assist in the investigation into the alleged murder of Otieno. Kinoti separately told Daily Nation that key statements had been collected from witnesses and that suspects in the alleged murder of Otieno were awaiting arrest, though he declined to name them.