Reporters Without Borders welcomes this week’s Kenyan high court decision declaring eight sections of the controversial Security Laws Amendment Act (SLAA) to be unconstitutional. Two of the sections contain provisions restricting free speech and media freedom.
“We hail this Kenyan high court ruling, which is an encouraging signal for the rule of law and the protection of the Kenyan people’s fundamental freedoms, including freedom of information,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“However, we still have reservations about some of the law’s other draconian provisions. The Kenyan people’s security should not be protected at the expense of civil rights.”
As soon as the amendment was adopted and signed into law last December, an opposition coalition associated with the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights filed a petition before the high court challenging many of its provisions on the ground that they violate free speech, media freedom and other civil liberties.
In its ruling, issued on 23 February, the court struck down Section 12 of the law for “violating the freedom of expression and the media guaranteed under Articles 33 and 34 of the Constitution.”
This section penalized media coverage “likely to cause public alarm, incitement to violence, or disturb public peace” or that “undermines investigations or security operations by the National Police Service or the Kenya Defence Forces.” The maximum sentence for violators was three years in prison, a fine of 5 million shillings (55,000 dollars) or both.
Section 48, imposing refugee quotas (and thereby threatening the status of refugee journalists in Kenya, above all those from Ethiopia and Somalia) was also struck down on the grounds that it violated the right of asylum enshrined in 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Kenya is a party.
The government has said that it intends to appeal against the high court ruling and that, pending the outcome of that appeal, all of the law’s disputed sections remain in effect.