Respect freedom of speech, Kenyan bishops say after media restrictions

Kenyan bishops at a meeting with Pope Francis in Nairobi, Nov. 26, 2015. Credit: Martha Calderon/CNA.
Kenyan bishops at a meeting with Pope Francis in Nairobi, Nov. 26, 2015. Credit: Martha Calderon/CNA.

.- Kenya’s government has shut down several TV stations after the leader of an opposition political party declared himself the “people's president” in January. The country's bishops condemned the actions of both parties and insisted on the importance of free speech and respect for law and order.  

“As a Church whose mandate is to promote justice and peace, we are categorically concerned with acts of both the government and the opposition that are unconstitutional and a bridge to law and order,” the bishops wrote in a Feb. 2 statement.

The situation follows a disputed August 2017 election. President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected Aug. 11, but it was nullified and a new election was ordered by the Supreme Court, which said the vote wasn't transparent.

Raila Odinga, Kenyatta's challenger, boycotted the October re-run, claiming it would also be neither free nor fair, and Kenyatta won overwhelmingly, with only 39 percent turnout.

Odinga then held an unofficial swearing-in ceremony in Nairobi Jan. 30 where he called himself the “people's president.”

Kenyatta's government then shut down several TV channels so as to prevent coverage of the swearing-in. The stations were still able to live-stream online, however. Only two stations have now been allowed to resume broadcasting to subscribers.

The Kenyan bishops responded saying that the restrictions on the TV stations did “not augur well for the freedom of expression and press in the country.”

“This is in itself is retrogressive and deliberate effort toward eroding the positive steps the Country and her people have laid down in the Constitution as a social contract.”

The bishops encouraged the government to resume the proper media functions, as Kenya’s constitution allows. The statement also emphasized the responsibility of journalists “to inform and educate the public.”

Additionally, the bishops insisted that “both opposition and the government should desist from any acts that can incite the public and cause deeper divisions among the people of Kenya and the Country at large.”

Citing the fact that “no state agency or individual is above the law,” they called on all state agencies and all duty bearers to respect and adhere to the tenets and spirit of the Constitution, respect human rights and the fundamental freedoms.”

As an organization committed to peaceful solutions, the bishops offered their support to help facilitate dialogue and encouraged Kenyans to join a 2018 Lenten campaign for peace.

About 50 people have reportedly been killed in violence related to protests following the August 2017 election.

Kenya's 2007 elections resulted in nationwide ethnic violence that killed 1,300 people and displaced as many as 700,000.

Tags: Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga