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Journalists in danger as Kenyatta shuts TV stations for covering Odinga’s ‘swearing-in’

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President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya has clamped down on independent television stations that covered the swearing-in of Raila Odinga as the parallel President of the country on Tuesday.

The Kenyan government on Tuesday shut down three private stations for live coverage of Odinga’s swearing-in ceremony.

According to Reuters, three Kenyan journalists said on Thursday they spent the night in their newsroom in fear of arrest, watching plainclothes policemen camped outside, and that their lawyers would file court petitions in the morning seeking to ensure their freedom.

“We were doing our job, we had the right to do this, and if I was to do it again, I’d do it the same way,” Ken Mijungu, NTV senior anchor and reporter, told Reuters after an anxious night spent conferring with lawyers and wondering if police would appear with arrest warrants.

He said his colleagues, Larry Madowo and Linus Kaikai, had all been independently warned by security sources on Wednesday that their arrest was imminent.

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In the early evening, when men they believed were plainclothes police appeared outside their office building, they were advised by the station’s management to stay inside.

By morning, the men were still in their newsroom.

“Our head of security said he has reason to believe they had gone for reinforcements,” said Madowo, 30, who was producing coverage on Tuesday before authorities took NTV off air.

But the shutdown of TV stations has been condemned by Kenyan journalists, who had been used to operating freely.

“This is clearly a slide to dictatorship. It’s a return to a repressive period we had forgotten about,” said Madowo. “We are becoming another African country with these kinds of issues.”

Kaikai, who is also Chairman of the Kenya Editors’ Guild, said editors had been warned by authorities that they could be shut down if they covered the event.

The stations would stay off air indefinitely, the government said on Wednesday, as it investigates the symbolic oath by Odinga directly challenging Kenyatta.

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Fred Matiang’i, Kenyan Interior Minister, accused media organisations of facilitating the “illegal act”, which he said put the lives of thousands of Kenyans at risk.

“This is a gross abuse of the law and complete disregard for the constitution,” said Mijungu.

Also on Wednesday, police arrested Tom Kajwang, an opposition lawmaker who administered Odinga’s “oath”. He was expected to be charged on Thursday with administering an unlawful oath, a security source told Reuters.

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