Kenya’s new cybercrime laws limit fundamental freedoms, including those of information and expression, lobbies have said and asked for their rethink.
The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act is aimed at punishing cyber fraud and illegal hacking, but was amended on the floor of the National Assembly to add provisions deemed contrary to the Constitution.
When it was approved by MPs, the Kenya Editors Guild and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warned that its enactment into law would affect journalists and bloggers.
Head of the CPJ programme in Africa Angela Quintal warned at the time that “journalists and bloggers (are) likely to be among the first victims if it is signed into law.”
“We urge President Kenyatta to refer it back to Parliament so that members can ensure that its provisions are constitutional and do not violate the right to media freedom and free expression,” she added.
The contentious clause of the new Act provides for the punishment of those who publish false information that “negatively affects the rights or reputations of others”.
In the case of information that negatively affects the rights or reputations of others, this is already taken care of under the Defamation Act. Criminal libel or defamation was declared unconstitutional by the High Court in February 2017.
The new law also provides for the punishment of those who publish false information that is intended to cause or causes panic, chaos or violence among the people, or which is likely to discredit the reputation of a person. This will attract a fine of a maximum Sh5 million or imprisonment for a maximum 10 years.
The provisions in the new Act could be viewed as an attempt by MPs to rein in journalists and bloggers who publish information that affects those in power, like MPs, Cabinet Secretaries and other senior public officers.
MPs also had at the back of their minds their recent harassment by fraudsters who conned some of them by pretending to be other MPs in distress, and a woman who was in the habit of sending them her explicit photographs.