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Rights groups decry Kenya’s television shutdown

Rights groups on Wednesday criticised the Kenya government’s move to block live coverage of a mock inauguration by the opposition as a “violation” of the public’s right to information.

Three of the country’s main private television channels had their live feeds cut or blocked, while the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) was allowed to continue.

Kenya’s Communication Authority shut down NTV, Citizen TV and KTN as thousands of opposition supporters gathered in Nairobi to watch their leader, Raila Odinga, swear himself in as “people’s president” as part of a campaign of defiance against the conduct and results of last year’s election.

“Kenyan authorities have restricted media coverage at a critical moment, and violated the public’s right to information about important events,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also criticised the move.

The shutdown followed a reported meeting last week when media organisations were summoned to State House.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and other senior officials warned editors against live coverage of the opposition’s “swearing-in” ceremony and threatened to revoke their licenses if they defied government wishes, according to Linus Kaikai, chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild.

‘A slippery slope’

In a statement, Kaikai said he was “gravely alarmed” by Friday’s meeting which took place in “an atmosphere of intimidation”.

The stations went ahead with their live television broadcasts and were subsequently switched off, although coverage continued online.

HRW said the shutdown “underlines a trend since 2013, when Kenyatta took office for the first time” of intimidation, harassment and threats aimed at the media.

For some, it brought back memories of years of dictatorship in the 1980s and 1990s when heavy-handed government censorship was common.

“Kenya is on a very slippery trajectory in regard to human rights, and president Kenyatta urgently needs to reverse this trend,” Namwaya said.

“The heightened assault on freedom of the media and expression risks further damaging Kenya’s reputation in the world as a rights-respecting nation.”

© Agence France-Presse

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