Kenya Government Defies Court Order to Restore TV Broadcasts

The control center of NTV, which was shut down by the Kenyan government this week.

The Kenyan government is defying a court order to put four private television stations back on the air, escalating a week of political tensions and raising concerns about its respect for the rule of law.

Government officials disconnected the stations, CitizenTV, InooroTV, KTN and NTV, during live broadcasts on Tuesday morning from an opposition gathering in Nairobi, the capital. President Uhuru Kenyatta had warned the owners of the stations against broadcasting the event.

On Thursday, the Milimani High Court, a lower-level court, issued an order requiring the Communications Authority of Kenya to restore the stations “with immediate effect.” By Friday evening, the government still had not complied.

The government has not explained its apparent defiance. But Mwenda Njoka, a spokesman for the ministry of interior, which is named in the order, suggested that the government could appeal because, he said, its representatives had not been present at the court hearing where the order was issued.

George Kegoro, director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, said the government’s action suggested the country was moving down a worrying path.

“This is absolutely unprecedented in our history,” Mr. Kegoro said. “We’ve never seen something like this, not even under Moi,” he added, referring to Daniel Arap Moi, whose 24-year rule is remembered as a period of censorship and human-rights abuse.

Joe Odindo, the editorial director of the Standard Group, a media company that includes KTN, questioned whether the government had effectively abandoned the rule of law.

“If the government is in power on the basis of the existing Constitution, then it should honor a court-issued order,” Mr. Odindo said. “I think Kenya is moving away from a legal basis of government, which we fought for. It’s setting a very dangerous precedent where decisions will be made on basis of your political persuasions and all the things provided for in law will be irrelevant.”

He also said the blackout had meant “significant financial losses” for the station, though he was unsure exactly how much money had been lost.

The court order came a day after Fred Matiang’i, the interior secretary, announced that he intended to keep the stations off the air indefinitely. He said he was investigating some media outlets in Kenya for their “facilitation” of what he described as a plot by the opposition to “massacre” Kenyans at Tuesday’s gathering.

The gathering brought thousands of people to Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, where they watched Raila Odinga, Kenya’s opposition leader, swear an “oath of office” as “the people’s president.” Mr. Odinga lost last year’s presidential election to Mr. Kenyatta after a tumultuous period of two national votes.

A Supreme Court ruling nullified Mr. Kenyatta’s victory in the first vote, citing irregularities, and ordered a second vote — which he also won. Mr. Odinga and his supporters boycotted the second vote, calling the process fraudulent.

Mr. Odinga has refused to recognize the legitimacy of Mr. Kenyatta’s presidency and had threatened for months to “inaugurate” himself. The police had promised to use force against Mr. Odinga and his supporters, but the event proceeded peacefully, without police interference.

Tuesday evening, however, Mr. Matiang’i, the interior secretary, designated a part of Mr. Odinga’s opposition coalition an “organized criminal group.” He said he would investigate its members, as well as media companies, for what he said was a plot to destabilize the government by staging a massacre and blaming it on the police.

Two opposition politicians were arrested this week, and three journalists applied for “anticipatory bail” when they were tipped off that police had surrounded their offices to arrest them.

Two other television stations in Kenya are still on the air. They are KBC, the state broadcaster, and K24, which has close ties with the Kenyatta family. The shuttered stations continue to broadcast online.

Okiya Omtatah, an activist who filed the petition at the Milimani High Court to lift the TV blackout, said that a clerk who had tried to serve the Communications Authority with the court order was detained for four hours and harassed. The order was refused, and when Mr. Omtatah tried to deliver it himself, he was refused entry.

“I stuck it to the door there,” he said. “They removed it and ripped it up.”

Mr. Omtatah said he filed the petition because his constitutional rights had been violated by the blackout. He said he considered freedom of the press a cornerstone of the country’s Constitution, which was drafted after a disputed election ended in widespread violence 10 years ago.

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