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We’ll come for you, police warn WhatsApp admins

Speaking to Capital FM News, Owino said that the police cannot gamble with peace during the election period/FILE

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Police spokesman Charles Owino has affirmed that WhatsApp group administrators will be charged if information deemed to be hate speech is posted in their groups.

Speaking to Capital FM News, Owino said that the police cannot gamble with peace during the election period.

“When we talk about incitement that could lead to violence or defamation, there is no boundary to it as long as it can be proven that you are the one who did it,” he said.

Experts on Internet law have raised questions about what provisions will be used to charge the administrators.

Laibuta Mugambu, a constitutional lawyer who also trains on Internet law, speaking to Capital FM on Wednesday poked holes into the warning saying that “you can’t give policing powers to WhatsApp administrators.”

He also wondered why the authorities think that “WhatsApp group administrators look at the content posted full time.”

Owino clarified that only an administrator who doesn’t take action against the perpetrator of hate speech will be held responsible.

“What happens is that he doesn’t remove the person immediately, even though the information would have gone to other people, then he takes responsibility. If he removes the person, then we deal with the individual who shared the information. But if the administrator doesn’t take action, we will deal with both of them,” he affirmed.

An advocate, speaking to Capital FM on Wednesday but who did not want to be quoted for professional reasons asked which law will be used to prosecute the administrators.

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“Each person is liable for their own actions. An administrator has no veto power or a legal obligation on what is posted,” he said.

Owino took a swipe at the advocates, urging them to wait and defend them in courts when they arraign the culprits.

“Let them wait in court. Tell those lawyers, if we charge somebody, let them come and defend them but we cannot encourage people to encourage others to commit crime thinking that they cannot be charged,” he said.

Laibuta felt like the authorities don’t know how the platform works and that’s why they make pronouncements that might prove difficult to enforce.

“The authorities need to know how the platform works. For example, if someone posts information, I can delete it on my phone but it has already gone to all the members of the group. How then do you hold the administrator responsible?” he said on Wednesday.

He added that there is no law he is aware of that can charge a WhatsApp administrator for information shared.

“There is no law I’m aware of. It’s like charging a road maker for the deaths caused by an accident on the road,” Laibuta wondered.

Owino, however, said that the advocates are making good points which they can argue in court.

“They can argue that in court,” he retorted.

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Owino had spoken to BBC Swahili affirming that WhatsApp administrators who allow hate speech to be shared in their groups will be charged.

The debate follows Communications Authority of Kenya Director-General Francis Wangusi’s warning during a stakeholders’ breakfast meeting on election preparedness in Nairobi that WhatsApp administrators will be held responsible for hate speech shared in the groups they manage.

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