Kenya media blackout continues despite Western pressure

Kenya’s government ignored Western pressure and flouted its own judges Friday after it refused to suspend an unprecedented shutdown of independent television stations.

Escalating a broader clampdown, police also arrested a second prominent opposition figure, prompting a renewal of the political violence that has claimed scores of lives since Kenyans voted in a disputed election last August.

The country’s three largest independent television stations remained off the air for a fourth day as Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya’s president, showed no sign of letting up in his campaign of vengeance against journalists who chose to defy him.

Despite personally being ordered not to by Mr Kenyatta, the three stations on Tuesday broadcast the build up the parallel inauguration of Raila Odinga, the opposition leader. 

Click Here: NRL Telstra Premiership

Mr Odinga had himself sworn in as “the people’s president” after refusing to accept his rival’s victory in two elections last year, the first of which was overturned by the supreme court, the second boycotted by the opposition.

Supporters of the Kenyan opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition leader hold a banner with his portraitCredit:

Ending an intense period of quiet diplomacy, the United States condemned what it characterised as a government attempt to “shut down, intimidate and restrict the media.”

“Freedom of expression, including for members of the media, is essential to democracy,” the State Department said in a statement.

“We urge the Government… to implement court orders calling for the restoration of television broadcasts.”

Britain has echoed the US call, although both states have also condemned Mr Odinga for creating a parallel government.

Although a Kenyan activist, Okiya Omtatah, won a court ruling suspending the shutdown, the government communications authority refused to receive the written order, raising fears about the rule of law in one of Africa’s most advanced democracies.

TV channel studios remain empty during the shutdown Credit:
 REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Police first detained a courier sent by Mr Omtatah to deliver the order, and then ripped up a second copy he attempted to hand over in person.

Showing the depth of Mr Kenyatta’s fury, police have also mounted a three-day stakeout of one television station, NTV, in an attempt to arrest three of the country’s best known broadcast journalists. 

The three won a temporary reprieve when a court ordered police to question the journalists before arresting them on undisclosed charges.

An outspoken opposition figure involved in Mr Odinga’s swearing was less fortunate after police allegedly blew open the doors of his house and seized him in an early morning raid.

Miguna Miguna’s arrest prompted sometimes violent demonstrations by opposition supporters.

Police were accused of killing a 14-year-old boy when they opened fire on one group.  At least 92 people have been killed in election-related violence since August.