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New law gives State powers to censor media

SCI & TECH
By Frankline Sunday | May 24th 2021
According to Facebook’s transparency report, the State requested for details of accounts belonging to 26 users operating in the country. [File]

The government will have the authority to restrict Kenyans’ access to certain websites if the new law that could stoke up opposition from anti-censorship advocates sails through.

According to proposals in the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes (Amendment) Bill, 2021, the government can classify certain websites as inaccessible from Kenya and recommend their access be blocked.

The Bill which was submitted to the National Assembly last week further proposes a Sh20 million fine or 25-year prison sentence for the possession or distribution of pornographic material. “The principal object of this Bill is to amend the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, No. 5 of 2018 to provide for the prohibition against the sharing of pornography through the Internet,” notes the amendments in the Bill proposed by Garissa MP Adan Duale.

“The Bill also seeks to provide an additional function of the National Computer and Cybercrimes Coordination Committee which is to recommend websites that may be rendered inaccessible within the country.”

The amendments come months after the Court of Appeal struck out a petition to suspend 26 controversial sections in the law enacted in 2018.

The Bloggers Association of Kenya, Law Society of Kenya, Article 19 and Kenya Union of Journalists sought a stay of execution until an appeal against the law heard.

In an affidavit to support their case, the Law Society of Kenya Chief Executive Mercy Wambua cites cases where specific individuals had been arrested under the law accused of disseminating false information in respect to Covid-19 related deaths.

“The arrest, arraignment and prosecution for Covid-19 related publications under the statute is likely to have a chilling effect," stated Ms Wambua in her affidavit.

“Bloggers, activists, journalists and whistleblowers will be discouraged from publishing information on a suspected violation of the Ministry of Health Covid-19 guidelines - with grave public health consequences.”

However, the government has defended the law noting that criminalisation of the acts described is an exercise of the State’s duty to care to its citizenry.

“Increased access to the internet and exposure to online risks and insecurity associated with cyberspace is a pressing concern not just in Kenya but the world over,” said Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai in an affidavit.

The law further criminalises the spreading of information the State deems as radicalising in nature. If approved, it would give the State more control over blocking of content by online users. 

 

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