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The Kenyan Court of Appeal has ordered the release of seven officials of the national doctors’ union so that they can continue negotiations with the government.

Seven officials from the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union have been ordered released by the Kenyan Court of Appeal so that they can continue to negotiate with the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenyan authorities arrested the group on Monday and ordered them to serve a one-month jail term after a lower court found them guilty of contempt of court. The doctors in the public health service who they represent have refused to end their general strike that began in early December.

“The applicants, respondents and interested parties undertake to resume negotiations forthwith, with a view to resolving the outstanding issues, in order to restore normalcy in the public health sector,” Appellate Judge Wanjiru Karanja said.

A victory for the doctors

The union, which has about 5,000 members, wants the government to follow through on a deal agreed in 2013 which would grant doctors a 150 to 180 percent pay rise on basic salaries and improved working conditions. The agreement also addressed the issue of under-staffing in state-run hospitals.

Mutula Kilonzo Junior, one of the lawyers who represented the jailed officials, said he was satisfied with the ruling and hopes that this will allow his clients and the government to return to the negotiation table for a honest debate.

“We hope that next week we can report next week that the doctors have reported back to work, they have been paid and whatever is pending can be discussed at a later date,” he said.

Strike to continue

The strike has angered Kenyans many of whom have taken the side of the doctors and the issue has emerged as a test of President Kenyatta’s leadership ahead of August elections.

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Doctors in public hospitals launched their strike in December

Opposition leader Raila Odinga was at the court to congratulate the judges and the lawyers of the union representative for winning their release. He said that Kenya should not be in the business of jailing doctors and criticized the current president for his silence on the matter.

“This crisis shows that he government cannot lead this country,” he said. “Negotiation should always be the way out of this kind of dispute.”

Doctors in private hospitals agreed to join the strike for 48 hours in solidarity with the public health sector doctors.

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