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Kenya Court Rules Deportation of Key Opposition Figure Illegal


Mercy Wambua (C), CEO of the Law Society of Kenya, and other lawyers march to demand that court orders and the law are respected, following the government's deportation last week of an opposition politician in defiance of a court order that he be produced in court, in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 15, 2018.

Kenya's High Court has declared the recent deportation of a prominent opposition politician illegal. The ruling is expected to further ratchet up tensions between the government's executive branch and the judiciary.

Delivering his ruling Thursday, Kenyan high court justice Luka Kimaru termed the deportation of a prominent lawyer and opposition politician, Miguna Miguna, illegal. He ordered authorities to present Miguna's Kenyan passport in court within seven days.

The Interior Ministry quickly hit back with a statement, saying it would appeal Thursday's ruling. The Interior Ministry rescinded Miguna's Kenyan citizenship last week and alleges that he acquired his passport illegally.

FILE - Lawyers Miguna Miguna (R), and Tom "T.J." Kajwang (C) attend a mock "swearing-in" ceremony for opposition leader Raila Odinga at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 30, 2018.
FILE - Lawyers Miguna Miguna (R), and Tom "T.J." Kajwang (C) attend a mock "swearing-in" ceremony for opposition leader Raila Odinga at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 30, 2018.

Miguna was deported after he was charged with treason over his role in opposition leader Raila Odinga's self-inauguration as the so-called "people's president" on January 30.

A court had ordered Miguna's release on bail, but the government failed to comply and instead sent Miguna to Canada, where he is also a citizen.

Earlier this month, authorities defied another court order to immediately lift the suspension of four private media outlets. The interior minister had said the outlets were under investigation for allegedly conspiring to subvert the government and spark violence. The broadcasters had planned live coverage of Odinga's self-inauguration.

Lawyers marching Thursday in the capital said the government must respect the rule of law. One of them, Ochieng Gor, said the government must be true to the constitution.

"It's not optional for people to obey what laws they want to obey and [choose] which ones not to obey," he said. "If we go that way, then we are going to have anarchy in this country. It's the rule of law that keeps us together as a country."

Brewing tensions

FILE - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses a Jubilee Party campaign rally in Nairobi, Oct. 23, 2017.
FILE - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses a Jubilee Party campaign rally in Nairobi, Oct. 23, 2017.

Tension has been brewing between the government and the judiciary for months. President Uhuru Kenyatta called the judges "thugs" at a campaign rally last year after the Supreme Court threw out Kenyatta's August election victory and forced the electoral commission to conduct a new poll.

Kenya's chief justice issued a rare statement last week warning that the government's recent defiance of court orders could threaten the rule of law.

This week, the ruling Jubilee coalition replied with a three-page open letter to the chief justice accusing the judiciary of bias in favor of the opposition.

Constitutional law expert Dunstan Omari says Kenya is still adjusting to the changes in the new constitution enacted in 2010.

"This is a hangover from 1964 until 2010," he said. "So, the Jubilee regime wants to go back to that era where the judiciary could take directions from the executive. But the types of freedom Kenyans have seen, the type of bill of rights that the constitution provides, that cannot happen."

Lawyers in Kenya have been wearing yellow ribbons as a form of protest. The country's largest lawyers association has threatened that its members will boycott court sessions if the government continues to disobey court orders.

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