Kenya officials shut down TV coverage of opposition leader’s ‘swearing in’

Kenya’s communications authority on Tuesday shut down television stations covering what the government calls an “illegal” and symbolic inauguration of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga was set to participate in an unofficial "swearing in" ceremony Tuesday, although he was not elected Kenya's president. File Photo by Daniel Irungu/EPA
National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga was set to participate in an unofficial “swearing in” ceremony Tuesday, although he was not elected Kenya’s president. File Photo by Daniel Irungu/EPA

Odinga, the loser of October’s disputed presidential election, planned to take part in a swearing-in ceremony at Uhuru Park, where hundreds had gathered in support of the leader of the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) party.

Kenya’s Supreme Court declared Kenyatta winner of the official Oct. 25 election, which came weeks after the original Aug. 8 vote that was annulled by Kenya’s high court. Odinga did not run in the second election, claiming voting irregularities, but has since spurred large swells of support.

Kenyatta was inaugurated in November, and Kenya Attorney-General Githu Muigai warned that an opposition group swearing in a president who’s not officially been declared the winner is high treason — an offense that can result in death.

Kenyatta warned media outlets not to stream Odinga’s “swearing-in” ceremony Tuesday, culminating with the communications officials switching off three major TV stations — NTV, Citizen TV and KTN.

Linus Kaikai, chairman of Kenya’s editors guild, accused Kenyatta of undermining the independence of news media during a meeting at the State House in Nairobi last week. There, he said a direct threat was made at select media owners in which the press was warned against covering the event.

“The brief meeting attended by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi, ICT Secretary Joe Mucheru and AG Githu Muigai did not bode well for the freedom of expression and press in the country,” Kaikai said in a statement.

“At the meeting, President Kenyatta expressly threatened to shut down and revoke the licences of any media house that would broadcast live the planned purported swearing-in of NASA leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. That direct threat has subsequently been echoed, off record, by other senior members of government.”

Simon Maina, the Kenya editors’ guild vice chairman, said Kaikia has only described his “personal position” and distanced himself from the chairman’s statement.

“There has been no meeting by the Kenya Editors’ Guild Executive Committee to agree on, and issue the statement alleged to have been sent out by Kaikai,” Maina said.

To break up what authorities said was an illegal gathering, police fired tear gas into the masses who’d gathered to witness the ceremony in Nairobi.

The rallies shut down roadways as opposition supporters blocked vehicles heading to the Upper Hill district of the city, and crowds destroyed signs that read” Uhuru Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya.”

By Sara Shayanian and Susan McFarland