Kenya: Intimidation and harassment of bloggers reaches new high

ARTICLE 19 is deeply alarmed by recent escalation of arrests and prosecutions of online communicators, including bloggers, in Kenya. Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act regarding ‘improper use of a licensed telecommunication gadget’ is being increasingly used by state officials to target those communicating online.

Eddy Reuben Illah was arrested on 19 January, 2016 and charged with publishing prohibited material for sharing images of what he alleged were Kenyan soldiers killed in an Al Shabaab attack, via a WhatsApp group.

Illah has denied the charge and has been remanded in custody pending the hearing of his case on 9 February 2016. If found guilty, Illah will face a fine of up to50,000 Kenyan shillings and/or imprisonment for up to three months.

Illah’s arrest came only two days after the Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery warned of prosecution against any Kenyan found to circulate a ‘gory’ image on social media in support of Al Shabaab.

Nkaissery stated that the government had concerns that there were ‘unpatriotic characters’ who were keen to amplify the terrorist agenda through the sharing of photos and sympathising with Al Shabaab.

This statement comes at a time when ARTICLE 19 is aware of an increasing number of worrying cases where people have been detained as a result of their communications via online platforms and social media.

On the same day that Illah was arrested, another blogger, Cyprian Nyakundi, was arrested and is currently still being held by police. Nyakundi was detained after tweeting about a construction company that was linked to Mombasa Governor, Hassan Joho.

Additionally, last week Elijah Kinyanjui, a Nakuru based journalist, was arrested by Nakuru Criminal Investigations Department for misuse of a licensed telecommunication system. He was accused of sharing, via social media, an image of Nakuru Governor’s daughter which was alleged to depict her in bad light.

Furthermore, earlier this month, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation journalist, Judith Akolo, was summoned by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and questioned for hours for retweeting a tweet questioning why an advert for police promotions was released on the eve of the deadline.

“Article 33 of the Kenyan Constitution expressly states that every person has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, or impart information or ideas. The recent wave of arrests of those communicating online do not reach the high threshold regarding limitations that can be placed on expression under Article 33 (2), and thus the actions by the police are unconstitutional,” explained Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

“ARTICLE 19 urges the government to abide by the spirit of the constitution regarding freedom of expression and to stop using this provision to clamp down on legitimate expression and democratic debate”, added Maina.

For media interviews please contact Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, or +254 +254 727 862230