Kenya: Fake news law worries civil society

A controversial new law against cybercrime was officially adopted last week when President Uhuru Kenyatta signed it.

It aims to plug Kenya’s law enforcement loopholes, as more and more Kenyans are connected to the Internet and government services and the economy are digitizing. But many fear an attack on freedom of expression.

“Technology is transforming the lives of Kenyans, and it needs to be legally regulated,” said Joe Mucheru, the Minister of Information and Communications, who has been working on the law for more than two years. The text regulates and heavily penalizes cyber-espionage, harassment and fraud on the Web.

But some provisions worry civil society publicly reject an attack on freedom of expression. Among them, the crime of false information, which punishes the publication of “fake news” a fine of over 40,000 euros and a sentence of up to ten years in prison if the content incites violence.

In recent years, misinformation has become a real problem in the country, especially during the 2017 presidential election, with genuine campaigns against certain candidates.

But the anti-fake news laws are very problematic, says Henry Maina, director of the Article 19 NGO in East Africa, because they “give the authorities the power to determine what is true and what is wrong and allow to control the media as well as what is said on the Web”.

The government may have to defend its case in court because many journalists, bloggers and lawyers are already promising to challenge the law in court.

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