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Kenya

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and 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, which 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 National Cohesion and Integration Act prohibiting hate speech and incitement to violence remained in force. Authorities arrested numerous members of parliament (MPs) on incitement or hate speech charges. In September 2017 authorities arrested MP Paul Ongili (aka Babu Owino) on charges of subversion and incitement and later charged him with causing grievous harm to a voter. These charges remained pending. In March the Nairobi High Court nullified Ongili’s election as an MP on charges of electoral malpractice and related violence. In June the Appeals Court overturned the High Court decision, reinstating Ongili’s election.

Press and Media Freedom: 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 the media’s largest source of advertising revenue, and regularly used this as a lever to influence media owners.

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 bill, which media freedom advocates lauded as progress in government transparency.

In March eight prominent columnists collectively resigned from the National Media Group, the country’s largest media group, via a joint statement citing a “loss in editorial independence,” including as an example the firing of managing editor Denis Galaya over an editorial critical of President Kenyatta.

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 March, according to multiple reports, police physically assaulted television and print journalists at Nairobi’s international airport covering the return of opposition lawyer Miguna Miguna from abroad. Reporters from KTN, NTV and Citizen TV alleged injuries from the altercation.

Numerous news outlets and NGOs reported that intimidation of journalists following the 2017 elections continued into the year. On September 9, police in Nyeri County arrested Irene Mugo of Daily Nation and Lydia Nyawira of Standard media for interviewing relatives of a man arrested for wearing a T-shirt carrying a message presumed to be against Deputy President William Ruto. Authorities released the journalists without charges the next day.

Most news media continued to cover a wide variety of political and social issues, and most newspapers published opinion pieces criticizing the government.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The mainstream media were generally independent, but there were reports by journalists that 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. On January 30, the government blocked KTN, NTV, and Citizen TV over plans to broadcast a public ceremony held by elements of the opposition coalition to symbolically swear in Raila Odinga as “the people’s president.” On January 31, the High Court ordered the ban suspended for 14 days while the court examined the case. The government refused to comply with the court order, calling the matter a security issue. On February 5, the government permitted NTV and KTN to resume broadcasting, and Citizen TV returned to the air on February 8.

Journalists practiced self-censorship to avoid conflict with the government on sensitive subjects, such as the first family.

Libel/Slander Laws: In 2017 a branch of the High Court declared unconstitutional Section 194 of the Penal Code, which 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 that it considered politically embarrassing. The government cited security grounds for preventing media houses from covering the January 30 symbolic swearing in of Raila Odinga.

INTERNET FREEDOM

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. Authorities, however, monitored websites for violations of hate speech laws. On May 16, President Kenyatta signed into law the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act, which was to come into force on May 30. On May 29, the High Court suspended enforcement of 25 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 (NCIC) tracked bloggers and social media users accused of spreading hate speech. Leading up to the 2017 election season, hate speech, disinformation, and surveillance were reported, and the Communications Authority of Kenya issued regulations that could limit disinformation online.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, 17.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. In 2016 the president signed into law the Protection of Traditional Knowledge and Cultural Expressions Bill.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, the government sometimes restricted this right. Police routinely denied requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and authorities dispersed persons attending meetings that had not been prohibited beforehand. Organizers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organizers otherwise. By law authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there is another previously scheduled meeting at the same time and venue or if there is a perceived specific security threat.

Police used excessive force at times to disperse demonstrators. The local press reported on multiple occasions that police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators or crowds of various types, including looters at the demolition of a shopping mall in September. On August 6, police tear-gassed Kenyatta National Hospital staff staging a peaceful protest over nonpayment of their health service allowances. IPOA’s investigation of resulting complaints continued as of year’s end.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right, but there were reports that authorities arbitrarily denied this right in some cases. A statement by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights dated July 11 noted reprisals faced by numerous human rights defenders and communities that raised human rights concerns. Reprisals reportedly took the form of intimidation, termination of employment, beatings, and arrests and threats of malicious prosecution. There were reports of restrictions on workers’ freedom of association, including in the agribusiness and public sectors. Trade unionists reported workers dismissed for joining trade unions or for demanding respect for their labor rights.

The Societies Act requires that every public association be either registered or exempted from registration by the Registrar of Societies. The NGO Coordination Act requires that NGOs dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, or the promotion of charity or research register with the NGO Coordination Board. In February the High Court ordered the NGO Coordination Board to pay the Kenya Human Rights Commission KSH two million ($20,000) compensation for illegally freezing its accounts and attempting to deregister it in 2017. The NGO Coordination Board had also attempted to deregister the Africa Centre for Open Governance, but a court overturned that decision in December 2017.

The NGO Coordination Act of 1990 requires organizations employing foreign staff to seek authorization from the NGO Coordination Board before applying for a work permit.

In 2016 the Ministry of Devolution and Planning announced its intention to implement immediately the 2013 Public Benefits Organization (PBO) Act, an important step in providing a transparent legal framework for NGO activities. Despite two court rulings ordering the government to operationalize the PBO Act. In September the interior cabinet secretary pledged to operationalize the PBO Act by the end of the year but the government failed to do so.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future