Kenyans may soon find some websites inaccessible and the genesis of this emerging issue is proposals in the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes (Amendment) Bill, 2021, that authorize the government to block some websites, thereby rendering them inaccessible.
Sponsored by Garissa Member of Parliament Hon. Aden Duale, the bill is very emphatic that electronic mediums should not be used for promoting activities such as pornography, terrorism, extreme religious or cult activities. Additionally, it tasks the National Computer and Cybercrimes Coordination Committee with recommending the websites that should be inaccessible by users.
A person who contravenes these laws is liable to a fine not exceeding Ksh. 20million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding twenty-five years, or to both.
In May 2018, the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) went to court to protest 26 sections of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act terming them unconstitutional and High Court Judge Chacha Mwita suspended the coming into force of the sections in contention.
Another attempt to gag users came about again on October 2018 when the country’s Attorney General also went to court to have the suspension lifted arguing that the suspension ordered by Justice Chacha Mwita in the case filed by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) was erroneous as it was heard and determined ex parte. Justice Judge Wilfrida Okwany threw out the application.
In February 2020, Highcourt judge James Makau reversed the gains by BAKE by dismissing the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act 2018 ruling that the 26 sections of the Cybercrimes Law contested were constitutional. Unbowed, BAKE went to the Court of Appeal to challenge the judgment by the court and the case is still in court today.
The Senate also filed a case in court against the National Assembly on the grounds that the laws passed by parliament were unconstitutional, null, and void because they violated Article 110 procedures, of the Constitution. This resulted in the nullifying of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act and 23 other laws.
The ball has since been thrown back to the court of the National Assembly to make the necessary changes and according to BAKE chairman Kennedy Kachwanya, so far, the amendments being churned out by parliament are not looking into the matters they had raised but are instead complicating the issues at hand.
“With this amendment, it seems that some MPs are taking advantage of legitimate issues as a pretext to curtail further the freedom of the media and freedom of speech through an act that already had a number of concerning sections,” said Kachwanya
“As an organisation, we would like the problematic sections in the original act removed and then new amendments to the law, if any, framed in line with our constitution and reality of the modern world not based on one’s own world view or beliefs. As with the Cybercrimes Act, we plan to oppose this new amendment Bill and even go to court if need be,” he added
If the law is approved it will give the government powers to rule over the internet space with an iron fist and this may make journalists, bloggers, and other stakeholders afraid to publish their content online. Those who may be brave enough to publish their content may be blocked and this could also affect their work, credibility, careers, and much-needed revenue.