Three major Kenyan television channels remained off the air Friday despite a high court order compelling the government to allow them to resume broadcasting.
In what has been seen by many as media censorship, the government ordered private channels KTN, NTV and Citizen TV to be switched off Tuesday over coverage of a symbolic “swearing-in” of opposition leader Raila Odinga the same day.
The television channels went dark at 10 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) Tuesday – a move not seen in the country for years.
The court has suspended the shutdown pending a February 14 court hearing challenging the decision to take the private stations off air, according to a court ruling.
Before the court’s ruling, the Interior Ministry had said the stations will remain off air as officials investigate the “serious breach of security” after the stations aired footage of crowds gathering for the event.
It’s unclear whether the government will honor the court’s ruling.
The authority will not turn on the stations until it receives the legal papers. But a court process server was detained as he tried to deliver the summons Friday morning, Omtatah claimed.
“Two men who claimed to be policeman apprehended him, turned off his phone and detained him for three hours,” Omtatah said. “They gave him back his documents, released him and told him never to set his foot there again.”
When Omtatah went to the authority himself he described how men who appeared to be police officers “said they had orders not to let me or anyone associated with the court in the building.”
A Kenyan government spokesman declined to comment when asked about Omtatah’s claims.
In recent days, the government’s apparent censorship has made headlines worldwide.
In a statement, the US State Department expressed concerns on both the “inauguration” and the media shutdown. It reiterated that Uhuru Kenyatta was elected president, and urged both parties to resolve their issues in court.
“We reject actions that undermine Kenya’s Constitution and the rule of land,” the statement said. “We are also deeply concerned by the government’s action to shut down, intimidate and restrict the media. Freedom of expression, including for members of the media, is essential to democracy and is enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution.”
The European Union echoed the same sentiment, and urged the dueling sides to maintain calm.
“Kenyan people now have the opportunity to take the country forward and work together on their historical path towards democracy and development,” the EU said.
Following the shutdown, three NTV journalists spent the night in the newsroom Wednesday, fearful of arrest by police officers they said had camped outside the building.
Larry Madowo, Linus Kaikai and Ken Mijungu said they remained holed up in the newsroom after their police sources tipped them that officers planned to arrest all three.
“We have not broken any laws … we were just doing our jobs and I have no apologies about that,” Madowo told CNN by phone from Nairobi. “This is harassment and intimidation by the government. ”
They moved to a “safe house” Thursday. The trio was able to leave the home Friday after receiving a court order preventing their arrest and being granted what is called “anticipatory bail.”
The journalists will learn Monday afternoon whether charges will be brought against them.
“This is definitely intimidation. This is harassment and this is an attempt of censorship by the President Kenyatta’s government. And it is worrying because Kenya has traditionally had one of the freest media environment in all of Africa,” Madowo said.
The Interior Ministry defended its decision to shut down the stations, saying the government had given the media “a full security situation brief well ahead of the illegal activities” of the opposition party.
“Unfortunately, some media houses chose to disregard this advice … the government took a decision to shut down the concerned media houses,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
CNN has reached out to the government for comment on the journalists’ arrest allegations.
Months of uncertainty
Odinga boycotted the country’s disputed election last year, and swore himself in as the “people’s president” at a ceremony in Nairobi on Tuesday.
Thousands of opposition supporters gathered for the largely peaceful event, and throngs of supporters quickly left the park after it ended. In what appears to be an isolated incident, police fired tear gas to disperse crowds pulling down signs near the park.
Shortly after the mock swearing-in, the Kenyan government declared the opposition’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) to be an organized criminal group.
Concentrated protests have taken place in Nairobi’s Kibera neighborhood, an Odinga stronghold. Activists protested the arrest of controversial opposition figure Miguna Miguna, who had declared himself the “general” of the NRM and called for the public burning of portraits of Kenyatta.
Miguna’s lawyer said he was charged with administering the presidential “oath” to Odinga, which amounts to aiding in the commission of a treasonous offense. Treason is punishable by death under Kenyan law.
The lawyer said police refused to comply with a court order for Miguna’s release and he remained in custody Friday despite posting bail.
The incidents are the latest public spat between the opposition and the government following the nation’s two presidential elections held last year.
President Uhuru Kenyatta won a second presidential term with 98% of the vote in a controversial election rerun in November. The election was held after the country’s Supreme Court nullified a previous ballot held in August, also won by Kenyatta, over concerns of irregularities.
Odinga and his opposition party dropped out of the second vote, claiming the election commission had failed to implement reforms.
Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) says it wants to create an alternative government to protest Kenyatta’s rule. But the government warned that Tuesday’s events amounted to treason. The television channels were turned off at 10 a.m. (2 a.m. ET) Tuesday – a move not seen in the country for years.
At least 92 people have been killed during the protracted election period, according to a report from Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights.
CNN’s Briana Duggan and Farai Sevenzo reported from Nairobi, Faith Karimi wrote from Atlanta while Lauren Said-Moorhouse wrote from London. Hande Atay Alam, Steve Almasy, Radina Gigova also contributed to this report.