Protect freedom of expression online just as offline

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021 00:00 |
Social media. Photo/Courtesy

Obino Nyambane 

The Internet, an invention of the 1960s, has become the centre stage of our lives now more than ever. It has opened possibilities that many at the time were mere concepts. 

It is no longer a network of interconnected computers for transmitting electronic data but a useful facet of our day-to-day lives.

One in three people worldwide use the Internet, illustrating how rapid and popular it has become.

As it is evidenced globally, so it is in the Kenyan context, where the Internet has permeated more than 90 per cent of population. 

With the almost excellent penetration, many possibilities have been achieved as well. 

We not only receive and send e-mails, but also form social networks, shop online, find escapism and even interact with government offices. 

The latter is the reason as to why this article came into existence: the Internet and Internet freedom is now a human right and Kenyans, as elsewhere globally, are using the Internet to promote transparency and hold to account public institutions.

It concerns many, who literally subsist from the Internet. Those involved in advancing our causes via online platforms not limited to online magazines, blogs, vlogs, content creation and online agenda setting on different discourses, which the state could otherwise impose censorship on.

The Internet strengthens the freedom of expression and access to information. It opens avenues for plurality of content. 

It is, however, evident this ‘newfound’ is uncomfortable for the government. With it, it has a myriad of legislation aimed at silencing dissenting discourse.

They include National Police Service Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the National Intelligence Service Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Kenya Information and Communications Act and Computer Misuse and Cyber Crime Act.

The above legislations have ambiguities that give room for users to be persecuted when the government is uncomfortable with certain content online.

Internet freedom, therefore, denounces such governmental influence through passing of gagging legislation and rather advocates for the preservation of freedom of expression in the online environment.

Even with provisions within the Constitution, permitting the freedom to receive, seek and impart information under Article 33, the government is keen to exerting undue restrictions on its people, more so human rights activists.

There are other international instruments and legal provisions which Kenya is party to.

One of them is the United Nations Human Rights Council, which, in June 2012, declared the Resolution on the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet and called on all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet and ensure the same rights of freedom of expression that are available offline are protected and upheld online. 

However, Kenya authorities, work tirelessly to violate the rights. 

It is imperative the state recognises the invaluable role that human rights defenders play in documenting human rights violations and ensuring realisation of justice for victims of the violations.

Activists not only document but rather sensitise communities, through both online and offline platforms, of their rights.

Therefore, instead of the government playing catch and persecute, it should put in place mechanisms to protect activists against any forms of risks associated to their work.

Persecuting activists through arrest and detention is a total waste of taxpayers’ money.

The government must realise human rights defenders have the right to express dissatisfaction with errant duty bearers. — The writer is communications for development expert at Defenders Coalition

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