As at the end of the year 2014, Kenya status on Internet Freedoms was ‘Free’. According to Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world, Kenya was ranked at position 28 globally on Freedom of Net total and at position 12 on violation of user rights.
That was 2014 and it seems like Kenya’s ranking on internet Freedoms will have undergone a significant change by the end of 2015.
Kenya has seen a steady rise in the number of bloggers and Social Media opinion makers who are free to speak their mind on not just Politics but also on social issues affecting Kenyans. The void created by Media houses failing to provide unbiased coverage and lately, lack of in-depth coverage of news and stories happening, has presented an opportunity for bloggers to become Citizen Journalists.
The recent arrest of Robert Alai, Allan Wadi, Mercy Mbindalah(she has since been pardoned), and blogger Abraham Mutai is a clear indication of a growing trend to silence or heavily regulate Kenyan Bloggers and ordinary citizens on Social Media.
Kenya needs better laws to protect internet freedoms.
It is with these recurring and increasing incidents of arrests, intimidation and mysterious disappearance of Kenya Social Media users and bloggers that the Bloggers Association of Kenya launched iFreedoms Kenya.
The Launch of #iFreeKe
To mark the launch of this programme, there was a call to action for all Kenyans Online to share on what internet freedom meant to them as well as what freedoms they would not want censored. A logo, banners and a hashtag were created in advance and shared with the Kenyan Blogging and online community through the email newsletter, blog posts on the BAKE and Kenya monitor blogs and the information shared widely via social media. The Hashtag #iFreeKe was created an Kenyans Online were encouraged to share their thoughts on internet freedoms using this Hashtag.
A Kenyan Blogger is arrested & Freed on the iFreedoms Launch date
On Sunday 18th January, the BAKE team received word that Kenyan Blogger Abraham Mutai had been put in police custody over his blog posts and tweets regarding corruption in Isiolo County. The arrest and calls for the release of Mutai enabled us create as much awareness on the need for better internet freedoms in Kenya as well as rally Kenyans online to question the infringement on his rights to free speech online.
BAKE officials Kennedy Kachwanya and James Wamathai went to the CID headquarters in Kiambu, where Mutai was being held for interrogation into his online activities. They provided crucial live updates via social media on the on goings at the CID Headquarters. They also continued rallying Kenyans online to demand for his release, get more details on his arrest as well as create awareness on the for Kenyans to know their rights when using social media platforms.
It was BAKE that settled the lawyer’s fee that enabled Abraham Mutai receive legal representation from lawyer Ole Laibuta. Mutai was released on a personal bond.
Impact of success in creating awareness
The Social media awareness campaign planned and launched on 18th January was two-fold. Calling for the release of blogger Abraham Mutai and create awareness on the state and need for more internet Freedoms in Kenya.
There were two hashtags that were used on this day and were used interchangeably not only to highlight the plight of Mutai but to also speak out on the reducing freedoms for Kenyans to express themselves freely online.
The hashtag #freemutai reached 7.2Million users on twitter and facebook, with over 15 million people viewing that hashtag
The hashtag #iFreeKe reached 6.1Million users on twitter and facebook, with over 11 Million people viewing that hashtag.
The @ifreedomsKe twitter handle was created a few weeks to the launch and now highlights news and stories on internet freedoms not just in Kenya but around the world.
Trainings on internet Freedoms
It is for this reason that BAKE in collaboration with Mugambi Liabuta – an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya have started workshops on the Law and Internet in Kenya. The seminars target bloggers and social media content generators to sensitize them on how their interaction online are regulated by the law and steps to undertake when challenged on the content they have generated. This hopefully, will equip online content generators with enough legal knowledge to objectively navigate the blogosphere.
The first training was carried out in Nairobi on 7th March with 4 more to be carried out in Nakuru, Mombasa, Nyeri and Kisumu in the course of this year.