Three television stations in Kenya remain off the air for defying government warnings not to cover the mock inauguration of opposition leader Raila Odinga last Tuesday, in defiance of a court order issued on Thursday.
Reuters notes that two of the stations were able to “resume partial broadcasting” on Monday, but the third remains entirely off the air. Station employees seemed confused and somewhat fearful about what they are allowed to broadcast. All three stations were instructed not to broadcast footage of Odinga’s event, and blacked out before they had a chance to do so.
Interior Ministry officials say the networks must remain off the air while they are investigated for the “serious breach of security” represented by sending camera crews to cover the Odinga inauguration. Critics say it is not necessary to keep the stations dark while such an investigation is conducted.
The United States, European Union, and United Nations have called for the Kenyan government to respect the court order and allow the TV stations to reopen. Africa News notes that Kenyans are shocked by the media crackdown, which is highly unusual in the “freewheeling” and “irreverent” political culture that has developed over the past fifteen years.
Police used tear gas to disperse a crowd of about a hundred opposition protesters who gathered on Monday to demand full restoration of the television stations.
The protesters also called for the release of Miguna Miguna, an opposition leader who was jailed after appearing at Odinga’s symbolic inauguration as “the people’s president.” Miguna was briefly released on bail on Saturday, but then immediately re-arrested when the government decided to ignore the court order commanding his release.
Kenyan activist Okiya Omtatah has filed a contempt-of-court complaint seeking the arrest of officials who defied the court order to put the stations fully back on the air.
Not only did Miguna, a lawyer by trade, administer the oath of office to Odinga and publicly dare the authorities to arrest him for doing it, but he also ordered members of his political party to pull down portraits of President Uhuru Kenyatta and replace them with portraits of Odinga.
A judge ordered police officials to produce Miguna for a court appearance in Monday but they refused to do so, prompting a contempt of court citation from the judge, and fears from Miguna supporters that he died while in detention. His lawyer claims he suffered an asthma attack in custody but police would not allow him to be given medication.
Two other opposition figures have been arrested for participating in Odinga’s mock inaugural, one of them a member of parliament who once served as mayor of Nairobi. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before Raila Odinga himself is arrested.
The government’s actions to date convey the strange message that nearly everyone at Uhuru Park last Tuesday except Odinga committed a crime by participating in the mock inauguration ceremony. MP Joshua Kutuny described the situation bluntly to Nairobi News by stating that Odinga has six million supporters, so arresting him would “lead to chaos.”
“Anyone thinking of arresting Raila is contemplating disaster,” warned Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior, arguing that arresting Miguna and other top opposition figures while leaving Odinga untouched sends a message that the government is afraid of provoking Odinga supporters to riot. Another member of parliament speculated the government is working its way up the opposition hierarchy by arresting increasingly prominent members and judging public reaction to determine if it can safely move against Odinga personally.