The constitution stipulates there shall be no state religion and prohibits religious discrimination. The constitution provides for freedom of religion and belief individually or in communities, including the freedom to manifest any religion through worship, practice, teaching, or observance, and to debate religious questions. The constitution also states individuals shall not be compelled to act or engage in any act contrary to their belief or religion. These rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is “reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society.”
The constitution requires Parliament to enact legislation recognizing a system of personal and family law adhered to by persons professing a particular religion. The constitution also specifically provides for qadi courts to adjudicate certain types of civil cases based on Islamic law, including questions relating to personal status, marriage, divorce, or inheritance in cases in which “all the parties profess the Muslim religion.” The High Court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal proceedings, including those in the qadi courts, and accepts appeals of any qadi court decision.
While there is no penal law referring to blasphemy, a section of the penal code states that destroying, damaging, or defiling any place of worship or object held sacred with the intention of insulting the religion of any class of persons is a misdemeanor. This offense carries a penalty of a fine or up to two years in prison but is reportedly rarely prosecuted under this law. Crimes against the property of religious groups or places of worship are more likely to be treated as malicious destruction of property, which is also a misdemeanor.
According to the law, new religious groups, institutions or places of worship, and faith-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must register with the Registrar of Societies, which in turn reports to the Attorney General’s Office. Indigenous and traditional religious groups do not have to register, and many do not. To register, applicants must have valid national identification documents, pay a fee, and undergo security screening. In July, the government introduced a requirement that applicants must hold a diploma or degree from a recognized theological institution. Registered religious institutions and places of worship may apply for tax-exempt status, including exemption from duty on imported goods. The law also requires that organizations dedicated to advocacy, public benefit, the promotion of charity, or research register with the NGO Coordination Board.
All public and private schools following the national education curriculum administer religious education classes. These classes focus on either Christian, Muslim, or Hindu teachings and on the basic content of the religious texts of the religion being taught, as well as ethics. The Ministry of Education allows local communities and schools to decide which course to offer. The course selected usually depends on the dominant local religion and the sponsor of the school, which is often a religious group.
The law establishes fees for multiple steps in the marriage process that apply to all marriages, religious or secular. All officiants are required to purchase an annual license, and all public marriage venues must be registered. Officiants must be appointed by a registered religious group to conduct marriages and to purchase the license.
The Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology must approve regional radio and television broadcast licenses, including for religious organizations.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Human rights groups and prominent Muslim organizations continued to state the government’s antiterrorism activities disproportionately affected Muslims, especially ethnic Somalis and particularly in areas along the border with Somalia. The prior government denied directing actions targeting Muslims, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest, and detention of terrorism suspects. In October, the Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) reported it was investigating the enforced disappearance of 27 persons between January and September. In March, six men abducted Amani Mohamed Mwafujo immediately following his release from prison after a Kwale court acquitted him of terror-related charges. Mwafujo later appeared in September and reunited with his family.
Human rights organizations reported complaints from predominantly Muslim communities, particularly in the Eastleigh neighborhood of Nairobi and coastal regions, regarding intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and extortion by police. Some complainants stated police accused them of being members of al-Shabaab.
In October, the newly elected President acknowledged that police officers engaged in extrajudicial killings in the past and disbanded the Special Services Unit implicated in the killings. Human rights organizations and religious leaders welcomed the steps but cautioned the government not to use the reorganization of law enforcement bodies to target political rivals. Human rights defenders and Muslim leaders in coastal communities called on the government to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.
In June, the government lifted a seven-year ban on the registration of new religious societies. On July 13, the Registrar of Societies issued strict new guidelines for applicants seeking to register new religious societies, including a requirement that the applicants hold a diploma or degree from a recognized theological institution. Applicants must also show proof of tax compliance, be in good standing in the community, and must be recommended by a registered religious society in good standing.
Some predominately Muslim ethnic groups, including Kenyan Somalis and Nubians, continued to report difficulties obtaining government identification cards. These communities stated government officials at times requested supporting documents not required by law and implemented vetting processes in a biased manner.
During the year, there were reports that non-Muslims generally continued to harass or treat with suspicion persons of Somali ethnicity, who are predominantly Muslim. Police officers typically did not serve in their home regions, and therefore officers in some Muslim-majority areas are largely non-Muslim. NGOs stated this often led to misunderstandings between police officers and the communities they served.
During the election period, religious leaders representing interfaith groups, including the Anglican, Catholic, evangelical Protestant, Muslim, and Hindu communities, engaged in discussions with political parties and government bodies and urged them to resolve disputes within the court system. For example, the national interfaith umbrella group the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) partnered with the governmental National Cohesion and Integration Commission to call on politicians to avoid inciting violence by adhering to an elections code of conduct before, during, and after the country’s August 9 general election.
The interfaith Dialogue Reference Group, composed of prominent Christian, Muslim, and Hindu groups, continued to hold national and county forums to promote national reconciliation and peaceful elections. In August, the Dialogue Reference Group also regularly issued statements calling for national unity and urging the government to take necessary steps to conduct a peaceful and credible general election.
In September, the country inaugurated the new President and Deputy President, both of whom have personal ties to evangelical churches. The new government held prayer services at State House, the official residence of the President, which prompted some observers, civil society organizations, and religious leaders to express concern in print and social media about the blurring of the line between church and state and the preferential treatment given to one religious community.
In September, a former member of Parliament (MP) Stephen Ndichu filed a petition in court seeking to suspend the registration of the Atheists in Kenya (AIK) society, claiming the registration and operations of AIK violated the constitution. According to AIK, the former MP filed the court case in response to an AIK press statement criticizing the First Lady for hosting religious services at State House.
In March, the Ministry of Education directed schools to stop violating the religious rights of school children by enforcing bans on hijabs and forcing children to take specific religious subjects. In November, AIK called on the government to abolish religious education in schools and recommended to a government task force on education reforms that religious education be replaced with philosophy and ethics courses.