Kenya must bin its repressive Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Bill

Access Now is once again urging the Kenyan parliament to protect human rights, and uphold its constitution by throwing out the current Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes (Amendment) Bill draft.

“As it reads now, the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes (Amendment) Bill is set to create an oppressive system of government-domination of Kenya’s online spaces,” said Bridget Andere, Africa Policy Associate at Access Now. “We have repeatedly called on parliament to scrap this iteration of the law, and to partner with civil society in ensuring human rights are the foundation of any amendments.”

Alarmed by the threats to freedom of association, religion, and expression, Access Now and a coalition of civil society organizations sent an open letter and memorandum to the Kenyan parliament in July, 2021, advising against passing the bill in its current form. The bill is set to be presented in parliament for its third and final reading in early 2022.

If passed, the bill will restrict online freedoms by: 

  • Creating the overbroad, easily-exploited criminalization of conduct purporting to minimize behaviors that could cause people to self-harm or engage in extreme religious or cult-like activities; 
  • Prohibiting the publication, distribution, and possession of pornography; and
  • Instituting extremely punitive penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment, or fines of Ksh. 20 million for those found guilty. 

“There is still time to build on and improve this bill so it becomes a cornerstone piece of legislation that cements people’s rights online, and influences Kenya’s digital spaces for decades to come,” said Jaimee Kokonya, Africa Campaigner at Access Now. “We have seen governments tighten their grip around countries’ internet freedoms across the globe, this is an opportunity for Kenya to stand up and reverse the trend.”

Civil society has highlighted the bill’s contravention of the constitutional freedom of expression and the rule of law, and urges the National Assembly to suspend its deliberation until the Court of Appeal’s decision in Civil Appeal No. 197 of 2020. The continued consideration of the bill by the National Assembly despite its knowledge of a pending suit is illegal, and cannot proceed. 

Access Now, however, welcomes the strike of the bill’s clause 5, which sought to expand the scope of cyberterrorism, but amendments to clause 2 to limit the NC4’s powers do not go far enough, and must not grant state and non-state actors legal powers to interfere with freedom of expression and the right to access information. All other potentially dangerous clauses remain as-is.

The Kenyan parliament must withdraw this bill before its third reading — and last opportunity for debate — in early 2022, engage with civil society, and place constitutional human rights at the core of any decision-making.