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Although important political and social reforms have taken place in the past decade, including the adoption in 2010 of a new and progressive constitution, issues related to tribalism, political violence, corruption, police brutality and widespread impunity permeate the daily lives of Kenyans and define the environment in which human rights defenders (HRDs) operate. In 2012 alone, 400 people were killed and more than 200,000 others were internally displaced following resource-based and politically motivated violence in Kenya's Northern coastal region.
While Kenya maintains the appearance of a country where the public space is open, specific categories of human rights defenders encounter a wide range of risks as a result of their work. These include human rights defenders and journalists working on highly sensitive corruption issues, those who document or contribute testimony on past violence (including the 2007/2008 post election violence and frequent extra-judicial killings by the police) as well as those using peaceful demonstrations as an advocacy tool.
In November 2012, an anti-corruption activist narrowly escaped death after a vicious attack in downtown Nairobi by two individuals who asked about some of his work before hitting him with hard objects. In 2009, four human rights defenders, including two prominent ones who were conducting investigations on extra-judicial killings were shot dead in the streets of Nairobi. Detention and filing of frivolous court cases against HRDs who take part in peaceful demonstrations has become a common practice.
Human rights defenders denouncing human rights violations committed by the police forces have continuously faced reprisals. Members of civil society organisations such as Bunge la Mwananchi, which promotes social justice and accountable leadership, have been repeatedly arrested and subjected to ill-treatment while in detention, received threatening anonymous calls and some have undergone trials under accusations of “belonging to an illegal organisation” and “participation in an illegal protest.”
Another group at serious risk are human rights defenders who provided information to the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation on the 2007/2008 post-election violence. In that context, several human rights defenders were forced to relocate from their regions after receiving threats and accusations of betraying their communities. Many human rights organisations perceived to collaborate with the ICC investigation had their offices broken into in search of information and computers and hard drives were stolen.
Journalists have also been subjected to acts of intimidation, such as threatening phone calls and judicial harassment.
Human rights defenders working with sexual minorities’ rights have become victims of instigations by politicians and religious leaders. There have been incidents of community violence following anti-gay statements delivered by religious leaders and requests of closure of organisations working on research and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Prominent HRDs vocal on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights have faced stigmatisation and smear campaigns, which resulted in increasing difficulties in their day-to-day life.
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