UN asks government to respect press freedom

Blank screens of leading television stations NTV, Citizen and KTN and a live K24 one in the Nation newsroom on January 30, 2018. The United Nation has slammed the Kenyan government over its decision to shut down the TV stations. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, calls on the government to respect and implement High Court decision to restore TV signals.
  • Committee to Protect Journalists meanwhile accuses the government of exhibiting “contempt for the rule of law”.

The United Nations has added its voice to international calls for the Kenyan government to respect the High Court's order that three banned television stations be allowed to resume transmissions.

The UN human rights agency echoed statements on Thursday by the United States and European Union urging the government to suspend its closure of the stations and uphold freedom of the press.


“We are also concerned at the government’s attempts to interfere with the rights to freedom of expression by reportedly warning that participation in the (Raila Odinga) 'inauguration ceremony' would lead to revocation of licenses,” the UN rights agency said.

A leading press-freedom advocacy group meanwhile accused the government of exhibiting “contempt for the rule of law.”

Refusal to abide by the court order represents “a brazen example of censorship,” added the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Kenya should be a beacon for the continent regarding the public's right of access to information,” the group's Africa programme coordinator, Angela Quintal, added in an interview with the Nation.

Ms Quintal pointed out, however, that one international institution has been conspicuously silent on the TV shutdown and the government's defiance of the High Court's order.

“The African Union should be much stronger on this,” she said, noting that a February 1 statement by AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat failed even to mention the ban on the broadcasters.

Mr Mahamat did express concern over Mr Odinga's Uhuru Park ceremony, declaring that “the African Union rejects all actions that undermine constitutional order and the rule of law.”

Ms Quintal noted that the AU has appointed a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. All AU member-states are also signatories of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a section of which upholds the “right to freedom of opinion and expression,” Ms Quintal added.

Other NGOs focused on democratic norms had earlier called attention to what they described as the erosion of press freedom in Kenya.


Washington-based Freedom House noted in a report last year that Kenya's Constitution provides protections for freedom of the press.

“However,” Freedom House added, “government officials have exhibited intolerance for critical media, including through the introduction and approval of restrictive legislation that has been invoked to arrest media workers.”

“Journalists risk harassment and attacks while carrying out their work and in retaliation for it,” the advocacy group said.

Despite the State Department's call on Thursday for implementation of the High Court order, the Kenyan government may be calculating that it can safely regard such comments by the Trump administration as mere rhetoric.

As the New York Times reported on Friday, “Across the world, autocratic rulers are engaging in increasingly brazen behaviour — rigging votes, muzzling the press and persecuting opponents — as they dispense with even a fig leaf of democratic practice once offered to placate the United States or gain international legitimacy.”