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Kenya’s High Court suspends media shutdown

February 1, 2018

Kenya’s High Court ordered authorities to allow three major broadcasters to temporarily resume service Thursday, after they were switched off for covering the opposition leader’s mock inauguration, prompting outrage over press freedom violations.

Judge Chacha Mwita ordered the two-week reprieve in order to hear a petition by activist Okiya Omtatah Okoiti that described the gag as “grossly arbitrary, disproportionate, oppressive, and unreasonable.”

The three private stations — Citizen, NTV and KTN — were shut off on Tuesday morning as they broadcast opposition supporters gathering for the swearing-in of their leader Raila Odinga as “people’s president”.

They had defied orders by President Uhuru Kenyatta himself, who summoned media bosses last Friday and “expressly threatened to shut down” any station broadcasting the event, the Kenya Editors’ Guild said in a statement.

While authorities allowed the mock inauguration to go ahead, Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i warned Wednesday that investigations were underway, prompting fears and rumours over imminent arrests.

The lawyer and MP who swore Odinga in — TJ Kajwang — was arrested on Wednesday afternoon and police fired teargas to disperse his supporters ahead of a planned court appearance Thursday.

Meanwhile armed plainclothes police officers, were stationed Wednesday night outside the headquarters of Nation Media Group, which runs NTV, according to Linus Kaikai, a Nation journalist.

Warned by police sources that they would be arrested if they stepped outside, Kaikai and two of his colleagues stayed in the office overnight.

“It is a very sad moment for media freedom in this country and as the fraternity that we are in together with civil society organisations, we must stand together because if we don’t, then we will perish, we will go back to the days when we dont even want to remember,” said Tom Mshindi, the Nation Media Group’s editor in chief.

Matiang’i accused the media houses of “complicity” in opposition efforts to “overthrow” the government and had said they would remain shut pending investigations.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.