The Kenyan government is defying a court order to put four private television stations back on the air, escalating a week of political tensions and raising concerns about its respect for the rule of law.
Government officials disconnected the stations, CitizenTV, InooroTV, KTN and NTV, during live broadcasts Tuesday morning from an opposition gathering. President Uhuru Kenyatta had warned the owners of the stations against broadcasting the event.
On Thursday, the Milimani High Court, a lower-level court, issued an order requiring the Communications Authority of Kenya to restore the stations “with immediate effect.”
By this evening, the government still had not complied.
The government has not explained its apparent defiance. But Mwenda Njoka, a spokesman for the ministry of interior, which is named in the order, suggested that the government could appeal because, he said, its representatives had not been present at the court hearing where the order was issued.
George Kegoro, director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, said the government’s action suggested the country was moving down a worrying path.
“This is absolutely unprecedented in our history,” Kegoro said. “We’ve never seen something like this, not even under Moi,” he added, referring to Daniel Arap Moi, whose 24-year rule is remembered as a period of censorship and human-rights abuse.
The court order came a day after Fred Matiang’i, the interior secretary, announced that he intended to keep the stations off the air indefinitely. He said he was investigating some media outlets in Kenya for their “facilitation” of what he described as a plot by the opposition to “massacre” Kenyans at Tuesday’s gathering.
The gathering brought thousands of people to Uhuru Park, where they watched Raila Odinga, Kenya’s opposition leader, swear an “oath of office” as “the people’s president.” Odinga lost last year’s presidential election to Kenyatta after a tumultuous period of two national votes.
Two other television stations in Kenya are still on the air. They are KBC, the state broadcaster, and K24, which has close ties with the Kenyatta family. The shuttered stations continue to broadcast online.