Sunday 22 September 2019

Kenyan high court orders government to end TV shutdown after ‘inauguration’ stunt

The government took the step after Raila Odinga declared himself “the people’s president” during a mock swearing-in ceremony.

Mr Odinga styles himself 'the people's president' (AP)
Mr Odinga styles himself 'the people's president' (AP)

By Tom Odula

Kenya’s high court has ordered the government to end its shutdown of the country’s top three TV stations after they tried to broadcast images of the opposition leader’s mock inauguration.

The government is continuing its investigation into those behind the “treasonous” event in Nairobi on Tuesday, in which Raila Odinga declared himself “the people’s president”.

Journalists and human rights groups have raised an outcry over the shutdown of live transmissions which began on Tuesday. Some journalists have revealed they spent the night in their newsroom to avoid arrest.

Opposition leader Mr Odinga declared himself “the people’s president” in protest over President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election win last year, in a ceremony attended by tens of thousands of supporters in the capital.

Opposition legislator and lawyer Tom Kajwang took part in the mock ceremony (AP)

Mr Odinga claims the vote was rigged and that pledged electoral reforms in the East African nation have not been made.

The government responded to Mr Odinga’s “swearing-in” by declaring the opposition movement a criminal organisation and investigating ceremony “conspirators”. An opposition representative who stood beside Mr Odinga and wore judicial dress during the ceremony has been arrested, his lawyer said.

Kenya’s interior minister Fred Matiangi said the TV stations and some radio stations will remain shut down while being investigated for their alleged role in what he called an attempt to “subvert and overthrow” Kenyatta’s government.

Mr Matiangi claimed that the media’s complicity in the mock inauguration would have led to the deaths of thousands of Kenyans.

On Thursday, high court Judge Chacha Mwita directed the government to restore the transmission for the Kenya Television Network, Citizen Television and Nation Television News, and not to interfere with the stations until a case challenging their shutdown is heard.

Supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga attend a mock “swearing-in” ceremony at Uhuru Park in Nairobi this week (AP)

Henry Maina, regional director of media rights group Article 19, had called the shutdown of TV stations a violation of constitutionally-guaranteed media freedoms and the “lowest moment for media freedom in a decade”.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists had called on Kenyan authorities to allow the TV stations to immediately resume broadcasting.

A popular TV news anchor said on Thursday that he and two other journalists were forced to spend the night in their newsroom to avoid arrest.

Larry Madowo, a news anchor with Nation Television, said multiple sources informed him and colleagues that undercover policemen were waiting in the car park outside their offices. He said the journalists decided to spend the night in the newsroom for security reasons.

Kenya’s supreme court nullified the August election after Mr Odinga claimed that hackers infiltrated the electoral commission’s computer system and changed results in favour of Mr Kenyatta. The ruling, citing irregularities and illegalities, was the first time a court had overturned a presidential election in Africa. The court ordered a fresh election in October which Mr Kenyatta won and Mr Odinga boycotted, claiming a lack of electoral reforms.

PA Media

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