NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 5 – The East African Law Society (EALS) has raised concern that the recent passage of the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill 2013 may be part of a wider effort by East African governments to muzzle the media.
In a statement to newsrooms EALS President James Mwamu said threats to press freedom had manifested themselves not only in Kenya but in Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi as well in what was developing into a worrying trend.
“Governments in the region are jointly suppressing democratic freedoms by using unconstitutional laws to gag journalists and the media,” he said.
Adding his voice to that of the Law Society of Kenya, Mwamu described passage of the law that seeks to levy heavy fines on journalists and their media houses by the Kenyan Parliament as unacceptable.
He took particular issue with the provision for a Communications and Multimedia Appeals Tribunal whose sweeping powers would also include making, “any supplementary or subsidiary orders or directions that it may consider necessary.”
Powers, which he said, would be an affront to the democratic gains made in Kenya and a violation of Article 34 of the Constitution which guarantees:
“The State shall not penalise any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.”
He went on to criticise similar legislation passed by the Senate in Burundi banning the coverage of, “sensitive,” issues touching on public security, national defence, and the economy.
The proposed Burundian legislation would also require journalists to disclose their sources, have a minimum of two years professional experience and a university degree.
Closer home, Mwamu used the Tanzanian government’s recent suspension of the Mwananchi and Mtanzania newspapers to make his point.
“The Ministry of Information stopped the publication of Mwananchi newspaper and Mtanzania, alleging violation of secrecy and sedition laws,” he said.
The 10-day shutdown of the Ugandan Daily Monitor in May, Mwamu said, also pointed at a wider East African conspiracy to curtail the hard fought freedoms of the press.
“There are also concerns on violent deaths of journalists, such as that of Thomas Pere in June,” he said.
And despite President Uhuru Kenyatta’s assurance that it is not his government’s intention to frustrate the Fourth Estate, persons such as former Prime Minister Raila Odinga have joined Mwamu in questioning how the oppressive bill passed the cabinet stage in the first place.
Information, Communication and Technology Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has however placed the blame squarely on Parliament’s doorstep accusing them of altering the bill after it passed the Cabinet stage.