Kenyan parliament has passed a new draconian media law that imposes harsh penalties on journalists.
Journalists now face punitive measures for violating the Code of Conduct for journalists, including fines of up to Sh20 million.
They also risk being deregistered and their bank accounts frozen.
MPs Thursday evening voted to create a tribunal that will handle complaints against the media and have power to impose the harsh penalties.
This happened through the introduction of a surprise change to the Kenya Information and Communication Bill, which was passed last evening with 17 per cent of MPs (60) present in the chambers in the National Assembly.
The House accepted a proposal by the Energy, Information and Communication Committee for the creation of Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal.
The Tribunal would have the power to “impose a fine of not more than Sh20 million on any respondent media enterprise…adjudged to have violated either that law or the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism.”
It has the power to fine individual journalists “not more than Sh1 million” for violating the same code.
It would also get worse because the fine would be a debt, meaning the person or organisation found to have broken the law would be liable to have his bank accounts raided or their property sold off for misreporting.
The tribunal also has the power to “recommend the suspension or removal from the register of the journalist involved.”
It has also been granted the power to make any orders it feels would be necessary to carry into effect the orders or directives it would make.
28 MPs PRESENT
Proposed by Energy Committee chairman Jamleck Kamau, the creation of this tribunal was among amendments introduced with a mere 28 MPs in the chambers.
Only a handful shouted aye when the vote was called for but the fact that there was no one in opposition was taken as evidence that all were in agreement.
As they were going through the amendments, Majority Leader Aden Dualle and Mr Kamau detected that the Bill was not going to be passed without the quorum of 50 MPs and they rushed out to get the rest to come in.
“This is a controversial and good law but the members are not here. This House is more full when passing other Bills,” Mr Dualle would later say.
After that, the 32 who hadn’t been in the House came in and helped bring the numbers up to 60 and then Speaker Justin Muturi called for the verbal vote, the ayes had it and the Bill was passed.