Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government sometimes restricted this right.
Freedom of Expression: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 132 of the penal code that criminalized “undermining the authority of a public officer,” ruling the provision violated the fundamental right of freedom of expression. Other provisions of the constitution and the law prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. The Judicial Service Commission, however, reported many cases were withdrawn due to failure of witnesses to appear in court or to facilitate mediation. Cases that did proceed often failed to meet evidentiary requirements. Authorities arrested members of parliament (MPs) on incitement or hate speech charges. In June authorities arrested MP Charles Kanyi for incitement to violence after Kanyi allegedly threatened foreigners operating businesses in Nairobi. In September the Milimani chief magistrate acquitted four serving and former MPs of hate speech charges related to statements made in 2016.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The government occasionally interpreted laws to restrict press freedom, and officials occasionally accused the international media of publishing stories and engaging in activities that could incite violence. Two laws give the government oversight of media by creating a complaints tribunal with expansive authority, including the power to revoke journalists’ credentials and levy debilitating fines. The government was media’s largest source of advertising revenue, and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners. Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.
Sixteen other laws restrict media operations and place restrictions on freedom of the press. In 2016 the president signed into law the Access to Information Act, which media freedom advocates lauded as progress in government transparency. The government, however, has not issued regulations required to implement the act fully, and civil society organizations reported government departments failed in some instances to disclose information.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists alleged security forces or supporters of politicians at the national and county levels sometimes harassed and physically intimidated them. The government at times failed to investigate allegations of harassment, threats, and physical attacks on members of the media.
In February, Kenya Forest Service rangers assaulted four journalists while they were covering a ceremony in Naro Moru Forest Station. The cabinet secretary for the environment ordered the suspension of five officers involved in the assault.
In June, two Kenya Television Network (KTN) journalists were attacked and seriously injured by students and faculty of St. Stephen’s Girls Secondary School in Machakos County. The school’s principal was charged with assault and inciting the students to attack the journalists. The principal allegedly opposed the journalists investigating a case of a missing student.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists government officials pressured them to avoid certain topics and stories and intimidated them if officials judged they had already published or broadcast stories too critical of the government. There were also reports journalists avoided covering issues or writing stories they believed their editors would reject due to direct or indirect government pressure.
Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family or assets owned by the Kenyatta family.
Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional a portion of the law that defined the offense of criminal defamation. Libel and slander remain civil offenses.
National Security: The government cited national or public security as grounds to suppress views it considered politically embarrassing.
Police arrested and detained for 14 days prominent social media blogger Robert Alai in June for posting pictures of police officers who were killed in a terror attack. Despite taking down the pictures as requested by police, he was arraigned in court and charged with two counts of treachery and disclosure of information in relation to terrorist activities. He was released on bail.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws. According to the Freedom on the Net report, a number of citizens have been arrested for alleged hate speech or criticizing the government. In May 2018 President Kenyatta signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, which was to come into force on May 30. Later in May 2018 the High Court suspended enforcement of 26 sections of the new law pending further hearings. The court based the suspension on complaints that the law was overly vague and subject to misuse, that it criminalized defamation, and that it failed to include intent requirements in key provisions and exceptions for public use and whistleblowers. The hearings remained pending as of the year’s end.
By law mobile telephone service providers may block mass messages they judge would incite violence. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech. Leading up to the 2017 election season, online hate speech, disinformation, and surveillance were reported, and the Communications Authority of Kenya issued regulations that could limit disinformation online.
Privacy International reported the National Intelligence Service has direct access to the country’s telecommunications networks that allows for the interception of communications data. Furthermore, Privacy International reported the NPS also has surveillance powers, established in the National Police Service Act and the National Police Service Commission Act of 2011. Freedom House additionally reported authorities have used various types of surveillance technologies to monitor citizens. During the year the Citizen Lab published findings on the presence of Israeli-based NSO Group mobile phone spyware on two local internet service providers, Safaricom and SimbaNet.