President Uhuru Kenyatta has signed into law a Bill that can easily be used by the State to clamp down on media freedom and online critics.
Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Bill 2018 became law yesterday, giving the Government sweeping powers that could send Kenyans in contravention to up to two years in jail or cost then Sh5 million.
The new law covers offences relating to computer systems, including online insults, wrongful distribution of obscene images, child pornography, fraud, cyber terrorism and espionage.
However, the Act also introduces broad offences that critics fear could be abused by the State to stifle dissent or unflattering reporting.
Ahead of the signing, there were numerous petitions from the public, civic society groups and the media against some of the provisions in the Bill.
Journalists and bloggers in particular were uneasy about Clause 12 of the Act on publishing of false or fictitious information, which will attract a Sh5 million fine or a two-year jail term for offenders. Pundits say this can easily be used to crack down on critical coverage of the Government, its officials and agencies.
Another clause introduced by the MPs on April 26 provided that anyone found guilty of publishing false information that “is calculated or results in panic, chaos, or violence” or that is “likely to discredit the reputation of a person” is liable for a fine of Sh5 million and/or 10 years in prison.
Still, the new law is expected to tame Kenyans’ online habits.
Under the new law, using a phone or computer to commit crime could send you to prison for two years and cost you Sh5 million. Sharing of fake news and propagating hate speech will attract a Sh5 million fine or a two-year prison sentence, or both.
Similarly, sharing pornography through the various electronic means will attract a maximum of Sh300,000 or 10 years in prison, or both if convicted.
The Act also spells out stiff punishment for cyber-criminals in offences such as unauthorised access, unauthorised interference, unauthorised interception, unauthorised disclosure of passwords and cyber harassment.
Others include identity theft and impersonation, phishing, interception of electronic messages or money transfers, willful misdirection of electronic messages and fraudulent use of electronic data.
Through his Twitter handle, Statehouse spokesman, Manoah Esipisu announced the signing of the Bill by the President into law yesterday, sparking online uproar among media stakeholders.
“It seems now the Government is bringing back criminal libel,” said Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) chairman Churchill Otieno.
The Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) Secretary General Eric Oduor said the union was studying the new law.
Similarly, Article 19, a global free speech organisation, and Committee to the Protect Journalists (CPJ) have expressed reservations with the hefty fines and lengthy imprisonment periods prescribed by the law.
Earlier, Esipisu had promised CPJ that presidency would consider reservations raised about the Bill before signing it into law.