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Kenya Government Standoff With TV Stations Enter Day 3

18 hours ago
Originally published on February 1, 2018 8:02 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There is a standoff this morning at one of Kenya's largest newsrooms. Three days ago, the government there shut down three major independent TV stations. Now a court has ordered them back on the air. And at the same time, police are trying to arrest some prominent journalists for covering an event where the opposition leader declared himself president. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Last night, police officers walked into Nation Centre in Nairobi and circled the newsroom. Linus Kaikai, a top editor of one of the censored TV stations, described the scene by phone.

LINUS KAIKAI: There's a bit of a situation. Apparently, I could be arrested. So we are in the office and the policemen are in the building so I'm not able to talk now.

PERALTA: Hours before, Fred Matiang'i, the country's cabinet secretary for the interior, had declared that the government was about to take crushing action. The government was reeling after opposition leader Raila Odinga and tens of thousands of supporters defied government threats and held a legally insignificant swearing in ceremony at the city's Independence Park. Matiang'i sees the event as an attempted coup and the media as complicit.

FRED MATIANG'I: We will act. The individuals who are involved in this and the organizations involved in this, wherever they are within the borders of this country, will feel it. And they will be so sorry.

PERALTA: The government then arrested the member of Parliament who officiated the oath, and they said the country's top three independent news stations would remain dark, pending an investigation. Angela Quintal, of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

ANGELA QUINTAL: Kenya has really been one of the beacons on the continent for media freedom.

PERALTA: Indeed, the Kenyan constitution guarantees the freedom and independence of the press. But these actions, says Quintal, appeared to roll Kenya back decades into the authoritarian days of Daniel arap Moi.

QUINTAL: The public has a right to know, and the fact that governments are trying to stop that is incredibly problematic.

PERALTA: Linus Kaikai, the news editor, spent the night in his office. And this morning, his colleagues and civil society groups emerged from the newsroom to say, if anyone is arrested, all the journalists will join them in jail. Press freedoms in Kenya were hard won, they said, and this will not be a turning point.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.