The decision today by the Kenyan government Communications Authority to take Citizen, NTV and KTN TV stations off air to prevent their planned broadcast of opposition leader Raila Odinga’s so-called “swearing in” demonstrates the Kenyan government’s disregard for media freedom, ARTICLE 19 said today. The decision follows reports by the Kenya Editor’s Guild that threats had been made last week from the highest levels of government, including President Uhuru Kenyatta himself, to media houses that if they covered today’s ceremony they would be taken off air or have their licenses revoked. ARTICLE 19 condemns these attempts to silence independent media reporting through threats and shutdowns, and urges the stations’ broadcasts capabilities to be reinstated and for the government to better protect freedom of expression in the country.
Odinga’s ceremony, intended to symbolically swear him in as President, follow last year’s disputed August election, which was nullified by the Supreme Court and subsequently re-run in October. Despite criticism by Odinga and his supporters of the fairness of the process, President Kenyatta won both rounds. Both elections were followed by protests across the country, met by a brutal police response. Excessive use of force against protestors, including live ammunition, resulted in the reported deaths and injuries of dozens of people.
Today’s move against the media and the threats which preceded it violate not only Kenya’s international law obligations on the right to freedom of expression, but also the country’s own constitution. Articles 33, 34 and 35 of the Constitution protect the right to freedom of expression and information, and media freedom, including the right of broadcasters to determine the content of their broadcasts.
“The media performs an essential role in any democracy by providing access to information and covering issues of public interest, particularly those related to governance and elections. This decision by the Kenyan regulator shows the deteriorating situation for press freedom in the country, and the government’s disrespect for the public’s right to access independent media reporting, even on controversial issues”, said Henry Maina, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
We call on the Kenyan government and Communications Authority to end the suppression of free speech on election related issues, and enable the media to perform its role in reporting on matters of public interest by reinstating Citizen, NTV and KTN TV stations and allowing media houses to report on political events without interference. We further urge the government to end the repression of freedom of expression through crackdowns on protests, and enable Kenyans to engage in public debate without fear of repression.
For more information please contact:
Henry Maina, Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa: firstname.lastname@example.org