By Katharine Houreld and George Obulutsa
NAIROBI (Reuters) – Two Kenyan television channels shut down by the government over their coverage of the political opposition resumed partial broadcasting on Monday, although a third channel remained off the air.
The unprecedented act of censorship sparked a local and international backlash against the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta, who won an election in October.
It also reinvigorated an opposition that had appeared unsure of its next step after a highly publicized rally last week at which leader Raila Odinga symbolically inaugurated himself as president.
The NTV, KTN News and Citizen TV channels were taken off the air on Tuesday, hours before they were due to broadcast Odinga’s event. The United States, the United Nations and former colonial ruler Britain strongly criticized the government’s censorship.
The government ignored a court order issued on Thursday to restore the stations, prompting activist Okiya Omtatah to file a case seeking the arrest of officials for contempt of court on Monday.
Also on Monday, police teargassed demonstrators demanding the stations reopen as they tried to march on government offices.
It was unclear why the government switched back on the transmitters. A spokesman for the government was not available for comment.
“There’s been no form of communication from the government,” said Larry Madowo of NTV, which resumed broadcasting on pay-to-view channels although its free-to-air channel, which uses different transmitters, was still off. KTN News was back on its free-to-air channel.
Madowo noted the transmitters for Citizen TV were in a different place, which might explain the delay.
Odinga’s symbolic inauguration in the heart of the capital of East Africa’s wealthiest economy was intended as a direct challenge to Kenyatta. Odinga insists he, not Kenyatta, was the true winner of a disputed presidential election last August.
The Supreme Court later nullified the August election on procedural grounds and Kenyatta won a repeat poll in October after Odinga boycotted it, claiming it would not be fair.
Since the symbolic inauguration, Odinga and his supporters have repeatedly promised to outline their next step, only to postpone the unveiling of their plan.
Most of their statements have focused on the brief detention of three opposition politicians who took part in Odinga’s ceremony, which occurred peacefully after the government withdrew police from the site.
Around 100 people were killed during the protracted election season, most of them Odinga supporters shot by the police.
Odinga supporters say they are angered by police impunity, persistent government corruption and the perceived neglect of large swathes of the country by the central government.
(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)