Kenya: Censorship by film classification board limiting free expression

ARTICLE 19 is extremely concerned by the continued use of broad censorship powers by the Kenyan Film and Classification Board (KFCB), which has recently issued several directives which violate free expression. This week the KFCB stated that licences would be required by anyone posting videos to their social media accounts, while last month they issued a discriminatory ban on a film about a lesbian relationship. The excessive censorship of the KFCB, which it is clearly intent on expanding significantly this week is a serious threat to free expression, particularly artistic expression, in the country and must be addressed.

The KFCB has long been criticised for overzealous censorship, and maintaining high licensing costs which excessively limit artistic expression.

On 14 May, the KFCB placed a notice in local newspapers stating that licences would be required for anyone filming with the intent to exhibit a film publicly, which according to the KFCB would include videos recorded on phones and posted on social media. The notice stated that punishment for failure to comply would be a fine of up to Ksh100,000 (GBP 739) or imprisonment of up to five years, as per the Film and Stage Plays Act CAP 222, which the Board is established under. Such a regulation would put ordinary Kenyans sharing artistic, comedic, or factual videos with their social media followers at risk of prison, and given the role of social media in modern communication, this would also significantly limit the public’s access to information on significant events, including protests.

This follows the issuance of a ban by the KFCB on 27 April of the screening and distribution of the film ‘Rafiki’, apparently ‘due to its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya’. The clearly homophobic ban violates the right to freedom of expression according to international standards and the Kenyan constitution, and is an absurd attempt to limit reflection and discussion of the lives and perspectives of LBGTQ people in the country. In 2014, the Board also banned the screening and distribution of the film Stories of Our Lives for the same claim that it ‘promoted homosexuality’, and as such did not reflect the ‘dominant values’ of Kenyans.

Kenya has over the years criminalized consensual relations between same sex people and this latest ban further aggravates the growing tide of homophobic sentiment that is particularly rife online. International standards require states to guarantee the right to freedom of expression for all without discrimination, including on the basis of sexuality. Censoring content touching on LGBTQ people or issues violates the rights of LGBTQ people to freely express themselves, and promotes intolerance.

“The KFCB, while playing an important role in licensing and classifying films, has increasingly sought to use excessively broad powers of censorship to ban productions it simply disagrees with.” said Henry Maina, Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. “The latest notice from the board is an alarming expansion of this trend towards censorship, and could place detrimental restrictions on Kenyan’s ability to freely express themselves online.”

The government has maintained that it is reviewing the Film and Stage Plays Act CAP 222. ARTICLE 19 urges the government to ensure the final amended Act will reflect international standards on the right to freedom of expression. We further urge the Board to end discriminatory bans on LGBTQ films, and revoke its recent notice threatening individuals sharing videos online with prison. The Board must reverse this trend towards broad censorship and ensure freedom of expression through film is protected across the country.