Crackdown on media and opposition around mock inauguration of Odinga

On 30th January 2018, opposition leader Raila Odinga was informally sworn in as “The People’s President,” after staging a mock inauguration with his supporters in Nairobi. As previously reported on the Monitor, the result of the August 2017 general election was annulled following allegations of irregularities, and President Uhuru Kenyatta won in the October re-election which Odinga boycotted.

On the same day, the Kenyan authorities designated the National Resistance Movement (NRM), an activist wing of Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, as a criminal group. This step set the stage for a crackdown on the media and opposition actors around the swearing-in ceremony.


Media outlets taken off the air

Three television stations and several local radio stations were taken off the air by the authorities during Odinga’s unofficial swearing-in. According to a statement by the Kenya Editors Guild, President Uhuru Kenyatta and other senior government officials summoned media managers and editors days prior to the event and threatened to shut down and revoke the licences of any media broadcasting the event.

Nation Media Group's NTV, Royal Media's Citizen TV and Standard Group's KTN News, all independent broadcasters, were switched off mid-morning for airing live pre-coverage of the event, but their live YouTube streams were unaffected. Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i said the stations would remain blocked until the government completed investigations "targeting individuals" over the mock inauguration. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) criticised the crackdown on the media and CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal stated that:

“Kenya should be a beacon on the continent for media freedom and the public's right to access information, yet government censorship continues to erode Kenya's status as a leader on African press freedom…Kenyans deserve diverse media and these stations should be allowed back on air immediately".
Journalist fearing arrest camp out in newsroom

On 31st January, NTV tweeted that plainclothes police were outside their offices attempting to arrest the station's general manager and two journalists, though they did not enter the building. The media workers spent the night at the Nation Media offices in Nairobi, unable to leave the premises as their lawyers filed court petitions to ensure their freedom.

Media Council CEO David Omwoyo criticised the shutdowns, saying in a statement that they contravened press freedom:

“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 guaranteed by the Kenyan Constitution, media freedom should be guarded jealously at all times".
High Court issues order to restore transmission

On 1st February, a High Court in Nairobi issued temporary orders to the Communications Authority to restore signal transmissions based on a suit filed by activist Okiya Omtatah seeking to declare the shutdown illegal and unconstitutional. NTV and KTN resumed broadcasting on 5th February, but only on paid TV platforms. On 8th February, Citizen TV, along with its Kikuyu-language sister station Inooro TV, were switched back on. By 9th February, all four stations were again available on free-to-air platforms.


Opposition members arrested, attacked and passports suspended

Tom J. Kajwang, a lawyer and opposition MP, was arrested outside a Nairobi courthouse on 31st January, a day after he attended Odinga's mock swearing-in. He was later released on a Ksh 50,000 (491 USD) bond after spending the night in a police cell. He has since been charged with treason and taking part in an unlawful assembly.

Hours prior to the swearing-in, deputy opposition leader and Odinga"s running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, claims that gunmen opened fire on his home and detonated a stun grenade, in the early hours of the morning, in what he described as an “assassination attempt”. He did not attend the swearing in. 

Opposition figure and central National Resistance Movement (NRM) leader, Miguna Miguna, who also attended the swearing-in, was seized in a dawn raid at his Nairobi home on 2nd February and subsequently deported to Canada, where he holds dual citizenship. In mid-February 2018, a judge in Nairobi declared Miguna's deportation illegal and ordered the government to reissue his Kenyan passport within seven days. When Miguna received the document, it had been defaced and perforated, rendering it potentially useless for travel. 

At least a dozen other high-ranking opposition members had their passports suspended after the swearing-in, including Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, Siaya Senator James Orengo, businessman Jimi Wanjigi, and NASA strategist David Ndii. Orengo and Wanjigi were prevented from leaving the country days later and had their passports confiscated at the airport.

Peaceful Assembly

Excessive use of force by police

Odinga’s mock swearing-in at Uhuru Park in central Nairobi was largely peaceful, and supporters quickly left the park after proceedings had concluded. In what appears to be an isolated incident, police fired tear gas to try to disperse crowds pulling down signs near the park.

On 5th February, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters who had gathered to demand that the government obey a court order that would allow the three banned TV stations to resume broadcasting.

Killing of student leader by police

Student protest movement leader Evans Njoroge was shot dead by police on 27th February 2018 in Meru after participating in a demonstration with other students over high fees and poor conditions on the university campus.

According to Frontline Defenders, Njoroge was a prominent student human rights defender at Meru University and Secretary General of the Student Council and had been subjected to police harassment, intimidation and detentions as a result of his human rights work.

In response to the killing, Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director Irũngũ Houghton said:

“The killing of student leader Evans Njoroge...was a great tragedy for his family, the student movement and the country as a whole…the Kenyan police must ensure that all those linked to the killings are investigated and prosecuted, all evidence properly preserved and witnesses protected to ensure the credibility of the investigations. Only a swift arrest and prosecution of those who killed Evans Njoroge will reassure Kenyans that justice will be done”.

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority is reportedly investigating the killing.

Report shows fresh evidence of election-related abuses by police and armed gangs

A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in late February supports previous claims that police and arm gangs had killed at least 37 people between September and November 2017 during the second phase of Kenya's controversial election. As previous reported on the Monitor, police clashed with opposition supporters during demonstrations demanding changes to the electoral system before the 26th October repeat election. Tear gas and live bullets were reportedly used. HRW reported that more than 100 people had been killed since the first election was held in August 2017.