Kenya signs bill criminalising fake news

On Wednesday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a lengthy new Bill into law, criminalising cybercrimes including fake news, cyberbullying and cyberespionage.

The Computer and Cybercrimes Bill, 2017 states that any person who violates one of the 17 offences outlined by the Bill will be convicted and sentenced to fines or imprisonment, depending on the offence.

The purpose of the Bill is to “protect the confidentiality, integrity and availability of computer systems, programs and data”, “prevent the unlawful use of computer systems”, “facilitate the investigation and prosecution of cybercrimes”, and “facilitate international co-operation on matters”.

The Bill also details measures against child pornography, unauthorised access, illegal devices and computer forgery. Although punishments for some of the detailed offences are reasonable, retribution for crimes of fake news — under Clause 12 of the Bill — can potentially inconvenience the media including online journalists, social media influencers and bloggers.

The clause says if a person “intentionally publishes false, misleading or fictitious data or misinforms with intent that the data shall be considered or acted upon as authentic,” they can be fined up to 5 000 000 shilling (nearly R620 000) or imprisoned for up to two years.

Before Kenyatta signed the Bill, there were demands to have Parliament review the law to make sure that it does not violate the right to media freedom and expression, according to the newspaperThe Daily Nation.

On May 10, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) beseeched the Kenyan president to not sign the Bill.

“Kenyan legislators have passed a wide-ranging Bill that will criminalize free speech, with journalists and bloggers likely to be among the first victims if it is signed into law,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal.

In an interview with CPJ, a former chief executive of the Law Society of Kenya Apollo Mboya said that these new laws would give the government the authority to “gag” journalists that contradict their goals and viewpoints.

Kenya is not the only country to recently institute laws condemning fake news. Malaysia instituted a dubious fake news law in April, severely penalising anyone spreading false information. If a person is found guilty, they can be jailed for up to 6 years or pay a fine of RM500,000 (more than R1.5-million), according to BBC.

People have already been convicted under the law, however the southeast Asian country’s new Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, will be reviewing and potentially “redefining” the law, according to BBC.

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