[UPDATE] Kenyan police detain opposition politician, media columnists resign

Miguna Miguna, was detained on Monday when he returned on a flight from abroad, a month after being deported in a dispute over his dual citizenship.

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, centre. Picture: @RailaOdinga/Twitter

NAIROBI - Columnists from Kenya’s top media group resigned en masse on Tuesday a day after police punched and kicked journalists covering the attempted deportation of an opposition politician at Nairobi airport.

The opposition figure, Miguna Miguna, was detained on Monday when he returned on a flight from abroad, a month after being deported in a dispute over his dual citizenship amid an escalation of political tensions in Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a security crackdown after the legitimacy of his re-election was challenged by opposition leader Raila Odinga, who had himself symbolically sworn in as “president”.

Taking aim at what they regard as deteriorating democratic tolerance in Kenya, eight columnists accused Nation Media Group’s (NMG) management of interfering in editorial decisions, suggesting it was too close to the government.

“We refuse to continue to clothe the loss of editorial independence and media freedom at the NMG with respectability,” the columnists said in a statement on Twitter. NMG is the publisher of the Daily Nation, Kenya’s most widely read paper.

After his deportation in February, a court ordered Miguna be granted re-entry but on Monday Nairobi immigration officers refused to accept his Kenyan passport and asked him to surrender his Canadian travel document, his lawyer Nelson Havi said.

An hours-long standoff ensued before several dozen plainclothes officers dragged Miguna onto an Emirates airline plane bound for Dubai, opposition Senator James Orengo said. Miguna was then removed from the airliner and taken to an airport police station.

He remained there on Tuesday without access to his lawyer, Orengo said.

During the scuffle, journalists from the Daily Nation and two private TV stations were assaulted and left bleeding on the ground, according to video footage and one Nation journalist.

“I watched a police officer kick my colleague in the back, then kick his camera, then with his other leg kick in him in the head,” journalist Ibrahim Oruko said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said the government was just following the law in Miguna’s case. “We have not denied him (entry). We just need him to follow the process like everybody else.”

Tensions in Kenya, ranging from opposition complaints over the conduct of elections to corruption and friction between ethnic groups, have raised international concern as the country is East Africa’s most advanced economy and a key regional hub for security, diplomacy and trade.

Odinga’s “oath of office” raised political temperatures by questioning the integrity of Kenyatta’s re-election last year, though the two rivals struck an unexpected truce earlier this month after months of election-related unrest in which 100 people died.

It was unclear whether the dispute over Miguna would affect the reconciliation pact.

Odinga came to the airport to lobby for Miguna to be readmitted to his homeland, Orengo said.