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World

Despite Court Order, Kenyan Government Keeps TV Stations Closed

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Court orders in Kenya have been pretty clear - the government is supposed to restore news broadcasts that were taken off the air. The government is also supposed to release an opposition leader. In the wake of a disputed election, the government simply says no. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

(CHEERING)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Human rights lawyer Catherine Muma stands next to a man holding a copy of the Kenyan Constitution.

CATHERINE MUMA: (Over loudspeaker) We are here to call the conscience of our people to bear.

PERALTA: Civil society groups had called this protest as the country plunged into turmoil. After opposition leader Raila Odinga declared himself president a week ago, the government began arresting opposition leaders. And they shut down three of the country's main broadcasters. Since then, the government did turn on two news stations, but they are still defying court orders, in one case, not even showing up to court. In essence, President Uhuru Kenyatta has suspended constitutional order.

MUMA: (Over loudspeaker) We need to stand up for the truth. We need to get back to the rule of law in this country.

PERALTA: So the protesters march across downtown Nairobi. Every once in a while, they stop in the middle of the streets, blocking traffic with their hands on their hearts and sing the national anthem.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in foreign language).

PERALTA: Festus Keneo watches from the sidelines, concern washing over his face.

FESTUS KENEO: In our Kenya now, everything seems like it is corrupt. Now the government is now acting like they are doing crime. They are not even respecting the law.

PERALTA: The march proceeds in front of the TV stations that were censored, in front of monuments that honor the bloodshed it took to get a constitutional democracy in Kenya. But it all ends when they take a turn toward the Department of Interior.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

W.O. MALOBA: You know, the instinct of Uhuru Kenyatta is to rule like his father, you know, which is to rule by decree.

PERALTA: That's W.O. Maloba, who has written biographies of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first president and President Kenyatta's father. Maloba says it is clear that the Kenyan government is testing waters, seeing how much of the 2010 Constitution they can roll back.

MALOBA: So my sense is that what is happening in the country should be seen as worrisome by all those people who believe in democracy and the rule of law.

PERALTA: The high court is left to deal with a thorny issue. The judge has already held the government in contempt for defying an order to release top opposition figure Miguna Miguna. But how do they compel the executive who controls the police and the military to comply? Nelson Havi, who represents Miguna, says, right now, Kenya has stepped back decades to a time when opposition leaders would simply disappear.

NELSON HAVI: We are in a dictatorship. That's one you can record without any fear of contradiction.

PERALTA: The government does produce Miguna in a courtroom in rural Kenya. He's not released. Instead, he's charged with being a member of an outlawed opposition group and for, quote, "binding opposition leader Raila Odinga to commit treason." Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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