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Covering protests no mean feat for journalists

Journalists often joke that to cover riots, you must be immune to teargas.

Protests that followed the announcement of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory last week saw journalists not only tear-gassed, but also harassed by police.

On Friday night, we sort of expected there would be protests. We just didn’t know stones and teargas will fly towards journalists.

The chaos paralysed business in Kisumu for days, yet they begun a few hours after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission chairman Wafula Chebukati announced the winners of the August presidential elections.

RIGGING

It began with shouts of disapproval in the residential areas, the informal settlements of Kondele, Manyatta, Nyalenda, Obunga as well other better residences of Mamboleo and Riat.

Initially, the police just looked on, even patrolled the streets, as locals jumped up and down to protest the alleged rigging. Then some chap led a group to set alight old tyres on the roads.

That prevented traffic from flowing. But it also aroused fake news. Some folks shared false news of these images as the ‘burning’ Tumaini Supermarket. It was fake.

Then more and more people came out of their houses to join in the protest. Police allege the protesters were dispersed because they had roped in criminals, who were taking advantage of the situation to loot.

PATROLS

It is debatable given the number of patients claiming they were attacked in their homes. The police also used air patrols to contain the crowd and map out possible hotspots as protestors poured into the streets to vent their frustrations.

Residents accused the officers of using live ammunition to quell the crowd and breaking into houses to beat up women and children.

Parents of a six-month-old baby say she was injured in the head by police who broke into their house. The baby was admitted to hospital where she died.

Journalists were not spared either with some harassed to delete pictures they had taken of the police officers beating up residents.

A colleague from the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation said police officers manning the Kondele and Car Wash areas, asked him to sit on the tarmac to delete pictures he had taken, on his mobile phone, of the police beating up residents of the area.

TEARGAS

He said the officers accosted him while taking the photos in the company of journalists who had gone to monitor the violence in the area.

Citizen TV crew was detained briefly in what the police argued they had received reports from witnesses of “suspicious movements” near their hotel. In other cases, police lobbed teargas at journalists.

In Kisumu though, you were damned if you were on the side of the police, and doomed if you reported from the side of the protesters. In any case, journalists were loathed by both sides.

At some point, an encounter with residents of the informal settlements turned ugly after the youths accused the media of bias in reporting the police brutality.

The situation was worsened by a call from Siaya Senator James Orengo that Nation Media Group was not reporting truth about the opposition National Super Alliance.

Those allegations, coming from a senior counsel with a history of defending journalists and freedom of expression may have been untrue, even harsh. But it served up to agitate the crowds.

Staying away was the only choice for a journalist.

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