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Kenya’s chief justice warns government to respect the law

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Kenya’s chief justice on Wednesday criticised the government’s recent defiance of a series of court orders — actions that he said “threaten the rule of law.”

In a rare public statement, David Maraga — who rose to international attention last September when he annulled Kenya’s presidential election — warned that government’s refusal to comply with various court orders over the last week undermined the constitution.

“In the last few days there have been worrying developments in the administration of justice that threaten the rule of law,” Maraga said.

“The recent disregard of court orders is an act that is not only inimical to the rule of law but is also completely at odds with Kenya’s constitutional outlook.”

“Compliance with court orders is not an option for any individual or institution. Neither is it a favour to be doled out to the Judiciary. Rather, it is a crucial matter of constitutional and civic obligation,” he said.

Maraga did not specify the orders that have been defied.

But since opposition leader Raila Odinga had himself sworn-in as “people’s president” during a mock inauguration ceremony on January 30 the government has ignored court orders on media freedom and the arrest of an opposition figure.

A court order that television news channels shut down for providing live coverage of Odinga’s “inauguration” be allowed to resume broadcasting was ignored for days and then only partially implemented. Two channels, including the leading Citizen TV, remain off the air.

A series of court orders to present the arrested opposition firebrand Miguna Miguna before a judge were also ignored in recent days, as well as orders to release him on bail.

Eventually Miguna was deported to Canada late on Tuesday, in defiance of High Court judge Luka Kimaru who said he must be brought before the court and released Wednesday.

Kimaru has warned that Kenya’s police chief and top detective may be charged with contempt.

“All state officers take an oath of office to protect and uphold the Constitution. To disobey a court order is not only a violation of the Constitution but also a dereliction of public duty,” said Maraga.

“Courts are temples of justice and the places of refuge for those seeking protection. They must never be despoiled either through acts of physical transgressions or blatant disregard of their pronouncements,” he added.

The confrontation with the courts is seen as a worrying sign of a slide towards autocracy in Kenya, already roiled by six months of bitter political dispute over the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta last year.



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