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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.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, defilement, sexual violence within marriage, and sex tourism, but enforcement remained limited. The law criminalizes abuses that include early and forced marriage, FGM/C, forced wife “inheritance,” and sexual violence within marriage. The law’s definition of violence also includes damage to property, defilement, economic abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, harassment, incest, intimidation, physical abuse, stalking, verbal abuse, or any other conduct against a person that harms or may cause imminent harm to the safety, health, or well-being of the person. Under law, insulting the modesty of another person by intruding upon that person’s privacy or stripping them of clothing are criminal offenses punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years.

The law provides a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for rape, although sentences were at the discretion of the judge and usually no longer than the minimum of 10 years.

Citizens frequently used traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, commonly known as maslaha, to address sexual offenses in rural areas, with village elders assessing financial compensation for the victims or their families. They also used such mechanisms occasionally in urban areas. In February however, the interior cabinet secretary announced that the government would not permit local government officials and community leaders to use maslaha to resolve the gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in rural Wajir County, and that the investigation must proceed through official channels.

The National Police Service recorded 2,557 reports of sexual gender based violence (SGBV) between January and June on the National Sexual Gender Based Violence Information System. Authorities investigated 2,393 cases, leading to 454 prosecutions, with six convictions as of June.

The governmental KNCHR’s November report on sexual violence during and after the 2017 election found that sexual and gender-based violations accounted for 25 percent of human rights violations, and 71 percent of the sexual assaults were categorized as rape. Ninety-six percent of the victims were female. The same report found that security officers committed an estimated 55 percent of the documented sexual assaults. More than half the victims lived in informal settlements in urban areas, primarily in Nairobi, and 80 percent were either unable to access or did not seek proper medical care within 72 hours. Only 22 percent of the documented victims reported the assault to police, and police reportedly acted indifferently to some accusations of sexual assault against authorities. KNCHR’s report included a raft of official recommendations to the Presidency, the National Police Service Commission, the Ministries of Interior and Health, IPOA, ODPP, the Judiciary, county governments, and other state bodies.

Although police no longer required physicians to examine victims, physicians still had to complete official forms reporting rape. Rural areas generally had no police physician, and in Nairobi there were only three. NGOs reported police stations often but inconsistently accepted the examination report of clinical physicians who initially treated rape victims.

Authorities cited domestic violence as the leading cause of preventable, non-accidental death for women during the year. Except in cases of death, police officers generally refrained from investigating domestic violence, which they considered a private family matter.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law makes it illegal to practice FGM/C, procure the services of someone who practices FGM/C, or send a person out of the country to undergo the procedure. The law also makes it illegal to make derogatory remarks about a woman who has not undergone FGM/C. Government officials often participated in public awareness programs to prevent the practice. Nevertheless, individuals practiced FGM/C widely, particularly in some rural areas. According to a study by ActionAid Kenya published in October, despite the legal prohibition on FGM/C, myths supporting the practice remained deep-rooted in some local cultures. The study concluded approximately 21 percent of adult women had undergone the procedure some time in their lives, but the practice was heavily concentrated in a minority of communities, including the Maasai (78 percent) and Samburu (86 percent).

Media reported growing numbers of female students refused to participate in FGM/C ceremonies, traditionally performed during the August and December school holidays. Media reported arrests of perpetrators and parents who agreed to FGM/C, but parents in regions with a high prevalence of FGM/C frequently bribed police to allow the practice to continue. There were also reports the practice of FGM/C increasingly occurred underground to avoid prosecution.

For more information, see Appendix C.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Certain communities practiced wife inheritance, in which a man inherits the widow of his brother or other close relative, regardless of her wishes. Such inheritance was more likely in cases of economically disadvantaged women with limited access to education living outside of major cities. Other forced marriages were also common. The law codifies the right of men to enter into consensual marriage with additional women without securing the consent of any existing wife.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Sexual harassment was often not reported, and victims rarely filed charges.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The constitution provides equal rights for men and women and specifically prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, color, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language, or birth. The justice system and widely applied customary laws that discriminated against women, limiting their political and economic rights.

The constitution prohibits gender discrimination in relation to land and property ownership and gives women equal rights to inheritance and access to land. The constitution also provides for the enactment of legislation for the protection of wives’ rights to matrimonial property during and upon the termination of a marriage, and it affirms that parties to a marriage are entitled to equal rights at the time of marriage, during the marriage, and at its dissolution. For example, according to a 2018 World Bank report, it was difficult in much of the country for widows to access a deceased husband’s bank account.

According to an October report by CEDAW, despite the laws, much of the country held to the traditions that married women are not entitled to their fathers’ property and that upon remarriage, a woman loses her claim to her deceased husband’s property. In May the High Court dismissed a case by FIDA challenging the constitutionality of the provision of the Matrimonial Property Act stating that parties to a marriage are entitled to marital property proportional to their contribution towards acquiring it. FIDA had argued that the provision indirectly discriminates against women, who often contribute less directly to marital income.

Children

Birth Registration: A child derives citizenship from the citizenship of the parents, and either parent may transmit citizenship. Birth registration is compulsory. An estimated 63 percent of births were officially registered. Lack of official birth certificates resulted in discrimination in delivery of public services. The Department of Civil Registration Services began implementing the Maternal Child Health Registration Strategy requiring nurses administering immunizations to register the births of unregistered children.

For additional information, see Appendix C.

Education: Education is tuition free and compulsory through age 13. Authorities did not enforce the mandatory attendance law uniformly.

While the law provides pregnant girls the right to continue their education until after giving birth, NGOs reported that schools often did not respect this right. School executives sometimes expelled pregnant girls or transferred them to other schools.

Child Abuse: The law criminalizes several forms of violence that affect children, including early and forced marriage, FGM/C, incest, and physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Violence against children, particularly in poor and rural communities, was common, and child abuse, including sexual abuse, occurred frequently.

The minimum sentence for conviction of defilement is life imprisonment if the victim is younger than 11 years old, 20 years in prison if the victim is between ages 11 and 16, and 10 years’ imprisonment if the child is age 16 or 17. Although exact numbers were unavailable, media reported several defilement convictions during the year. In September a court sentenced an 82-year-old man to life imprisonment for defiling a minor.

The government banned corporal punishment in schools, but there were reports corporal punishment occurred.

Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18 years for women and men. Media occasionally highlighted the problem of early and forced marriage, which some ethnic groups commonly practiced. Under the constitution, the kadhi courts retained jurisdiction over Muslim marriage and family law in cases where all parties profess the Muslim religion and agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts. According to media reports, in August, six men in Baringo County killed a 13-year-old girl for refusing to become a 60-year-old man’s fifth wife. For additional information, see Appendix C.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes sexual exploitation of children, including prohibiting procurement of a child younger than age 18 for unlawful sexual relations. The law also prohibits domestic and international trafficking, or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer, or receipt of children up to the age of 18 for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances. Provisions apply equally to girls and boys. The Sexual Offenses Act has specific sections on child trafficking, child sex tourism, child prostitution, and child pornography. Nevertheless, according to human rights organizations, children were sexually exploited and victims of trafficking.

Child Soldiers: Although there were no reports the government recruited child soldiers, there were reports that the al-Shabaab terrorist group recruited children in areas bordering Somalia.

Displaced Children: Poverty and the spread of HIV/AIDS continued to intensify the problem of child homelessness. Street children faced harassment and physical and sexual abuse from police and others and within the juvenile justice system. The government operated programs to place street children in shelters and assisted NGOs in providing education, skills training, counseling, legal advice, and medical care to street children whom the commercial sex industry abused and exploited.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

The Jewish community is small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. A number of laws limit the rights of persons with disabilities. For example, the Marriage Act limits the rights of persons with mental disabilities to get married and the Law of Succession limits the rights of persons with disabilities to inheritance. The constitution provides for legal representation of persons with disabilities in legislative and appointive bodies. The law provides that persons with disabilities should have access to public buildings, and some buildings in major cities had wheelchair ramps and modified elevators and restrooms. The government did not enforce the law, however, and new construction often did not include accommodations for persons with disabilities. Government buildings in rural areas generally were not accessible to persons with disabilities. According to NGOs, police stations remained largely inaccessible to persons with mobility disabilities.

NGOs reported that persons with disabilities had limited opportunities to obtain education and job training at all levels due to lack of accessibility of facilities and resistance by school officials and parents to devoting resources to students with disabilities.

Authorities received reports of killings of persons with disabilities as well as torture and abuse, and the government took action in some cases. In June the government reported a rise in defilement and confinement of persons living with albinism. According to an official, a majority of cases went unreported, while others were handled informally at the village level.

Persons with disabilities faced significant barriers to accessing health care. They had difficulty obtaining HIV testing and contraceptive services due to the perception they should not engage in sexual activity. According to Handicap International, 36 percent of persons with disabilities reported facing difficulties in accessing health services; cost, distance to a health facility, and physical barriers were the main reasons cited.

Few facilities provided interpreters or other accommodations to persons with hearing disabilities. The government assigned each region a sign language interpreter for court proceedings. Authorities often delayed or adjourned cases involving persons who had hearing disabilities due to a lack of standby interpreters, according to an official with the NGO Deaf Outreach Program. According to the KNCHR, 10 secondary schools in the country could accommodate persons with hearing limitations.

The Ministry for Devolution and Planning is the lead ministry for implementation of the law to protect persons with disabilities. The quasi-independent but government-funded parastatal National Council for Persons with Disabilities assisted the ministry. Neither entity received sufficient resources to address effectively problems related to persons with disabilities.

Nominated and elected parliamentarians with disabilities formed the Kenya Disability Parliamentary Caucus in 2013 and issued a strategy statement focusing on improving economic empowerment and physical access for persons with disabilities as well as integrating disability rights into county government policies. According to a 2017 CEDAW report, persons with disabilities comprised only 2.8 percent of the Senate and National Assembly, less than the 5 percent mandated by the constitution (see section 3).

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

There were 42 ethnic groups in the country; none holds a majority. The Kikuyu and related groups dominated much of private commerce and industry and often purchased land outside their traditional home areas, which sometimes resulted in fierce resentment from other ethnic groups, especially in the coastal and Rift Valley areas.

Many factors contributed to interethnic conflicts: longstanding grievances regarding land-tenure policies and competition for scarce agricultural land; the proliferation of illegal guns; cattle rustling; the growth of a modern warrior/bandit culture (distinct from traditional culture); ineffective local political leadership; diminished economic prospects for groups affected by regional droughts; political rivalries; and the struggle of security forces to quell violence. Conflict between landowners and squatters was particularly severe in the Rift Valley and coastal regions, while competition for water and pasture was especially serious in the north and northeast. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, between December 2016 and April 2017, in defiance of a court order, Kenya Forest Service guards burned multiple dwellings of the minority Sengwer tribe in order to evict them from Embobut Forest.

There was frequent conflict, including banditry, fights over land, and cattle rustling, among the Somali, Turkana, Gabbra, Borana, Samburu, Rendille, and Pokot ethnic groups in arid northern, eastern, and Rift Valley areas that at times resulted in deaths. Disputes over county borders were also a source of ethnic tensions. In August and September, there were a number of deadly inter-community clashes over government proposals to resume the evictions from the Mau forest in the southern Rift Valley region. As part of a dispute dating back to the colonial period, the government claims many of the communities were illegally living on and damaging forest land in a crucial conservation zone and drainage basin.

Ethnic differences also caused a number of discriminatory employment practices.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The constitution does not explicitly protect LGBTI persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The penal code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature,” which was interpreted to prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity, and specifies a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment if convicted. A separate statute specifically criminalizes sex between men and specifies a maximum penalty of 21 years’ imprisonment if convicted. Police detained persons under these laws, particularly persons suspected of prostitution, but released them shortly afterward. In April 2016 the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission filed Petition 150 of 2016 challenging the constitutionality of these penal codes. As of year’s end the two cases remained in progress. On March 22, the Court of Appeals in Mombasa ruled that the use of forced anal examinations by the state to determine participation in homosexual acts is unconstitutional. During the year the Kenya Film and Classification Board banned showings of the Kenyan film Rafiki over its presentation of LGBTI themes. After the film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in France, a Kenyan court ordered the ban suspended for one week in October so that the film could qualify to be nominated for a U.S. Academy Award.

LGBTI organizations reported police more frequently used public-order laws (for example, disturbing the peace) than same-sex legislation to arrest LGBTI individuals. NGOs reported police frequently harassed, intimidated, or physically abused LGBTI individuals in custody.

Authorities permitted LGBTI advocacy organizations to register and conduct activities.

Violence and discrimination against LGBTI individuals was widespread. In June LGBTI activists reported receiving death threats following the first pride event held at Kakuma refugee camp.

In May 2017 the government gazetted a taskforce in order to implement a High Court’s judgment in the 2014 Baby ‘A’ case recognizing the existence of intersex persons. The taskforce was seen as a step to reduce violence and discrimination targeting intersex persons. In July 2017 the taskforce launched a nationwide program to record the number of intersex citizens. That information was not publicly available as of October.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

The government, along with international and NGO partners, made progress in creating an enabling environment to combat the social stigma of HIV and AIDS and to address the gap in access to HIV information and services. For example, the government launched treatment guidelines for sex workers and injected drug users in collaboration with key stakeholders. The government and NGOs supported a network of more than 5,000 counseling and testing centers providing free HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Diagnosis of other sexually transmitted infections was available through hospitals and clinics throughout the country. In 2016, according to its website, the First Lady’s Beyond Zero Campaign to stop HIV infections led to the opening of 46 mobile clinics across the country.

Stigma nonetheless continued to hinder efforts to educate the public about HIV/AIDS and to provide testing and treatment services. In July a court sentenced a woman to death for murdering her boyfriend when she discovered that he had hidden his HIV positive status from her.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Mob violence and vigilante action were common in areas where the populace lacks confidence in the criminal justice system. In September a mob protesting the police killing of a civilian attacked a police station in Kisii County (western region) and killed three persons, including one officer. The social acceptability of mob violence also provided cover for acts of personal vengeance. Police frequently failed to act to stop mob violence.

Land owners formed groups in some parts of the country to protect their interests from rival groups or thieves. In March the National Cohesion and Integration Commission reported more than 100 such organized groups nationwide. Reports indicated that politicians often fund these groups or provide them weapons, particularly around election periods. Mombasa County reported 20 land invasions between March and July in parts of Mombasa and neighboring Kilifi counties.

In 2016 the Senate and the National Assembly established a joint parliamentary select committee to investigate police brutality and mob violence. The committee’s activities ceased, however, in the run up to the 2017 election.

Societal discrimination continued against persons with albinism, many of whom left their home villages due to fear of abuse and moved to urban areas where they believed they were safer. Individuals attacked persons with albinism for their body parts, which some believed could confer magical powers and which could be sold for significant sums.

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