Kenya's high court ordered the government to allow three major television stations to continue broadcasting Thursday, after they were shut down earlier in the week for showing scenes from an opposition rally. NAIROBI —
The order came amid serious concerns President Uhuru Kenyatta was deepening a crackdown on Kenya's media during the early days of his second term, in the face of an opposition party that refuses to acknowledge him as the country's legitimate leader.
On Tuesday, opposition leader Raila Odinga held an "inauguration" in which he declared himself the "people's president." Although the event was purely ceremonial, it drew thousands of people and effectively shut down central Nairobi, which infuriated Kenyatta's administration.
The government promptly shut down three channels broadcasting the event — Kenya Television Network, Citizen Television and Nation Television News.
Kenya's interior minister, Fred Matiangi, told reporters Wednesday the channels, as well as several radio stations, would be investigated for an effort to "subvert and overthrow" Kenyatta's government.
Kenya has historically had a vibrant, largely free press, and the administration's move sent a shock wave through the country's media outlets.
Editors of newspapers and television stations said in the wake of Tuesday's crackdown that several of their reporters had been threatened with arrest.
"It is a very sad moment for media freedom in this country," said Tom Mshindi, editor of the Nation Media Group, one of the country's biggest media conglomerates. "We must stand very firm together because if we don't, we will perish."
"This shutdown erodes the gains so far made in developing a free and responsible media industry and should never happen in a robust democracy that Kenya boasts of," the Media Council of Kenya said in a tweet.
Thursday's court order appeared to offer a reprieve for the nation's media outlets, particularly those who had been shut down. Some journalists worried the government would find other ways to intimidate those it considered opponents, or those who covered Odinga's opposition movement.
Kenyatta began his second term in November after a tumultuous election cycle that at times appeared to threaten political stability in one of Africa's most important economies.
In August, the first election results, which showed Kenyatta as the winner over Odinga, were annulled by the Supreme Court, which said the vote was not credible. Odinga then refused to participate in a second election, alleging it would be rigged, and Kenyatta won handily.
Since then, Odinga has claimed Kenyatta's presidency is illegitimate, mobilizing his significant following in protests. Most analysts expected that opposition to eventually dwindle. Kenyatta's crackdown on the media adds a new dimension to the political clash.
Odinga has already presented himself as the country's true defender of media freedom.
"The government has completely suspended the operations of our constitution right now," he said in a Thursday news conference. He continued: "There is no need to have a government if the government itself is going to disobey and violate all laws and the constitution."