Sidebar: Covering the International Criminal Court
By Robert Wanjala
When the International Criminal Court (ICC) began its investigations into the 2007-2008 post-election violence that killed over 1,000 people, it had wide public support. Kenyans desperately wanted to see justice for the atrocities that followed the disputed presidential election results in December 2007.
However, in the Rift Valley, where I am based, that support quickly diminished after the ICC announced charges against senior members of the government and other popular figures in the region.
My own troubles, which included death threats, began soon after the ICC confirmed charges against four Kenyans in early 2012, among them President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. Ruto’s supporters were the primary challengers of the charges (charges against Kenyatta were later dropped). Meanwhile, victims of the violence remained optimistic that they would receive justice at the ICC.
My woes deepened after I began receiving text messages such as: “There are no victims.” I was accused of “manufacturing” the voices of victims—people who had been forced to flee the violence and were now living as displaced refugees in their own country. Increasingly, people become reluctant to speak about their concerns.
As Kenyans later found, some members of the public (including journalists) were threatened while others received “invitations” from state agencies to be interviewed, and afterward changed their narrative to oppose the court. While the political campaigns for the 2013 general elections got underway, opposition to the court increased and intimidation and threats become more evident. Political rallies quickly became hostile for me because of my reports focusing on victims’ efforts to receive justice at the ICC. The hostility grew worse after Kenyatta and Ruto won election in March 2013. I was labeled an ICC sympathizer and a court spy hired by Western governments.
Though none of these insinuations bothered me, two individuals visited the Mirror Weekly in October 2013,pretending to be a relative of a colleague, and took photocopies of our publications. Then, in December 2013, unidentified people confronted me in public on separate days and interrogated me on a number of ICC issues.
They also questioned me about my relationship with one ICC suspect and warned me to stop writing about the ICC, saying it “wasn’t in the interests of the country.” Early this year, anonymous callers using blocked numbers told me to meet with police to provide statements, but they didn’t specify which police stations.
Covering the ICC issue has been a tough duty. While most journalists have tried to be independent and objective throughout the process, others have deliberately characterized us as supporters of the ICC.
I am for justice for the atrocities that shook the conscience of this country in 2007 and 2008. I am a supporter of truth. As I have always said, I am a patriotic citizen of this great country and would almost do anything to defend it. And there is nothing more patriotic than fighting hard to end the vicious cycle of impunity.
Robert Wanjala is a freelance journalist and former contributor to the regional independent Mirror Weekly in Eldoret in the Rift Valley.