A Kenyan court has jailed seven union officials for a month for failing to call off a strike by the country’s doctors that has crippled public hospitals for 10 weeks.
Judge Hellen Wasilwa said on Monday that she could not delay further the contempt of court sentence that had been suspended earlier on condition the doctors cancel their strike.
At least 5,000 doctors are on strike since December 5 for better pay and to protest the dilapidated state of Kenya’s public healthcare. It has left public hospitals closed and patients unable to get basic medical care.
“The applicants have not demonstrated to court any new and compelling issue, or pointed out any mistake or error apparent on the record, or any sufficient cause that would warrant review of the court’s order,” Wasilwa said.
With national elections due in August, the strike is increasingly becoming a hot issue for President Uhuru Kenyatta who is aiming to win a second term.
The sentencing prompted the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union to say it was calling off talks with the government.
“We are disappointed, we have suspended all the negotiations,” said Thuranira Kaugiria, a union official.
Union members and supporters will hold daily vigils outside prison until the officials are released, he added.
‘Horrified, disturbed and shocked’
Opposition leader Raila Odinga criticised the court’s decision and blamed the government of the ruling Jubilee Party for the crisis.
Odinga said he was “horrified, disturbed and shocked” at the sentencing and said it marked “the lowest point that Jubilee’s intransigence, incompetence and inability to lead has brought the nation to”.
Doctors have rejected a government offer of a 40 percent rise, saying it falls short of promises made in a 2013 agreement. Staff shortages and a lack of equipment have also failed to be tackled.
Widespread industrial action is not limited to healthcare, with Kenyan university lecturers also on strike over pay since last month.