Drama as Kenya tries to deport opposition politician again

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NAIROBI: A Kenyan court on Tuesday ordered the immediate release of an opposition politician whose confrontation with authorities trying once again to deport him ended up with his reported detention in an airport toilet.

Miguna Miguna earlier had been deported to Canada as part of a crackdown on opposition politicians who participated in the mock Jan. 30 inauguration of opposition leader Raila Odinga in protest of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s disputed re-election.

A Kenyan court last month ordered that Miguna’s Kenyan passport be restored and that he be given safe passage into the country.

When he tried to return on Monday, Miguna was denied entry at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and plainclothes officers tried to hustle him onto an Emirates airline flight bound for Dubai, witnesses said.

After Miguna protested, that failed. On Tuesday, his lawyer Nelson Havi tweeted that the opposition figure was “currently detained in a toilet at Terminal 2-Arrivals and has been denied access to his lawyers.”

After his lawyers went to the high court, Justice Roselyn Aburili ordered Miguna’s release, noting that he was being held “incommunicado,” and directed him to appear in court on Wednesday morning.

An interior ministry spokesman, Mwenda Njoka, tweeted that “government takes court orders very seriously and as such can’t respond to court orders based on hearsay and press reports.”

The airport confrontation came two weeks after a surprise meeting between opposition leader Odinga and Kenya’s president as they announced a new initiative to heal the East African nation after months of sometimes deadly election turmoil.

Odinga had argued that Kenyatta lacked legitimacy because his initial Aug. 8 re-election victory was nullified by the Supreme Court over “irregularities and illegalities.”

The repeat election had a low turnout as Odinga boycotted it, citing a lack of electoral reforms. Miguna was at Odinga’s side when he took an oath as the “people’s president” at the mock inauguration. The government responded by arresting opposition politicians.

In a video of the airport confrontation posted on social media, Miguna declared: “You cannot take me from country by force. … You cannot chase me from my country of birth because you have guns.” The video appeared to have been taken with a mobile phone by an airline crew member.

Kamanda Mucheke with the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which had been instructed by an earlier court order to oversee Miguna’s return to Kenya, said up to 100 police officers beat up journalists and opposition supporters during the confrontation.

Police did not immediately comment. Odinga has not commented on the incident.

Kenyatta’s government has been accused of pulling back on freedoms of expression and assembly. Also on Tuesday, eight columnists resigned from Kenya’s leading newspaper, the Daily Nation, accusing the government of influencing who can work at the privately owned publication and who can’t.

Human rights groups and media also have accused Kenyatta’s government of attacking watchdog institutions.

Ninety-two people were reported killed during protests over Kenyatta’s re-election.