An employee of Kenya Airways suspended for videotaping the arrival of a passenger aircraft from China announced on Monday that he will file a lawsuit contesting his suspension.
The Kenyan public responded with outrage to the revelation that planes from coronavirus-ravaged China were allowed to land in their country, leading to court orders that banned flights from China for at least ten days.
The Kenya Airways employee, Gire Ali, said he has been threatened since he was identified as the person who videotaped the Chinese plane arriving at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on February 26 and has sought police protection.
Ali’s lawyers said he shared the viral video online but did not record it. They confirmed he was an eyewitness to the arrival of the plane, which had 239 passengers aboard.
“At the time of landing, my client got suspicious because the first people to receive the plane were five Chinese journalists. They recorded the video,” Ali’s lawyer explained. This touched off another scandal since Kenya’s aviation rules would not normally allow foreign journalists to be the first people to encounter arriving passengers.
The question of exactly who recorded the viral video is important since Ali was suspended for violating Kenya Airways policies against making such recordings. The airline stated on Sunday that it had no choice but to suspend Ali because it was formally notified by the Kenya Airports Authority that making a video recording of an aircraft arrival was a violation of government security regulations.
Kenya Airways said the suspended employee would be granted all due process rights to contest the action taken against him, and offered assurances that it has no problem with the public learning about the arrival of the plane from China.
“Indeed, the nature of the coronavirus is such that the public has a legitimate interest in receiving relevant information to enable each one of us and our beloved nation to take the necessary steps in protecting ourselves and loved ones against the spread of the virus,” the company said.
Many Kenyans believe the employee was persecuted as a whistleblower and feel his superiors should be fired for failing to warn the public about the arrival of the Chinese plane. These nervous Kenyans were not reassured by promises from their government that the passengers were screened aboard the plane and asked to “self-quarantine” if they felt ill. Airport sources told Kenyan media that officials initially refused to allow passengers from the plane to disembark, and airport screeners refused to work with them.
Kenyan newspapers ran articles about the controversy with headlines such as “Enemies of the People” and “Virus: Why Kenya is Dancing with Death.”
“Does Uhuru love this country? Because if he did, no Chinese flight would be allowed to land in Kenya as long as the coronavirus remains a threat. Our health system can’t handle a coronavirus outbreak,” activist Boniface Mwangi asked Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta after controversy erupted over the flight. Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the current Kenyan government, after whom the airport is named.