A Kenyan court on Thursday suspended a government shutdown of three TV channels prompted by coverage of opposition leader Raila Odinga’s symbolic presidential inauguration this week, one of the channels reported.
NTV Kenya, three of whose journalists said they spent the night in their newsroom in fear of arrest, said on its Twitter feed the privately owned broadcasters were expected back on air after the High Court ruling.
“Government expected to restore NTV, Citizen TV & KTN News signals after High Court suspends switch off for 14 days pending case being heard,” it tweeted.
Government shut down the TV channels on Tuesday as they began coverage of a rally during which Odinga — who says last year’s elections, won by President Uhuru Kenyatta, were rigged — declared himself president in a brief, symbolic ceremony.
The shutdown, unprecedented in Kenya’s democratic era, prompted public criticism and raised fears the country was reverting to the censorship that characterised decades of repressive one-party rule under strongman Daniel arap Moi.
The court decision to suspend the shutdown for two weeks while a case challenging the legality of the government’s action is heard will boost the newly-independent judiciary’s image in Kenya.
Court officials were not immediately available for comment.
Government’s attempted censorship made global headlines about a country valued by investors for its stability, relative freedom and steady economic growth.
“This is clearly a slide to dictatorship. It’s a return to a repressive period we had forgotten about,” NTV journalist Larry Madowo told Reuters. “We are becoming another African country.”
NTV journalist Ken Mijungu told Reuters he and colleagues Madowo and Linus Kaikai were all warned by security sources on Wednesday their arrest was imminent.
In African states with entrenched rulers such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon, governments have asked telecommunications companies to block social media during elections and protests.
On Wednesday, the Kenyan government said the TV stations would stay off air indefinitely.
Interior Minister Fred Matiang‘i accused media organisations of facilitating Odinga’s “illegal act”, which he said put the lives of thousands of Kenyans at risk.
Clashes between Odinga supporters and security forces claimed around 100 lives during the election season. Almost all were killed by the police.
Also on Wednesday, police arrested opposition lawmaker Tom Kajwang for illegally administering Odinga’s “oath”. He was expected to be charged on Thursday but was taken from court by police before the charges were read.
Kenyatta won an August 8 election later nullified by the Supreme Court over irregularities. A repeat election was held on October 26, but Odinga boycotted it because he said the electoral commission had made insufficient reforms.
Kenyatta won with more than 98% of the vote.
Odinga, who government accuses of trying to force a bloody confrontation with the authorities, gave no hint in his five-minute speech at Tuesday’s rally about future actions and deflected questions on Thursday about his next move.
“We want the ruling party Jubilee to accept they lost the election,” he told a news conference, promising to release details of his plan the next day.
The opposition leader accused government of suspending the constitution by attacking the media and batted away suggestions his staged inauguration was a bid to seize power.
“I am not a megalomaniac. I am a reasonable Kenyan,” Odinga said.