25 October 2012

Kenya: Mobile Phone Users Face Jail for Hate Sms

Photo: Capital FM
Mobile users to be assigned IP addresses.

INDIVIDUAL mobile phone users sending politically divisive or inciting messages will now face imprisonment of up to three years as the country goes to national elections next year.

The penalty will also apply to social media users who post hateful updates. This sounds a warning to people who share some of the messages and photos, sometimes as a joke.

Information PS Bitange Ndemo, who yesterday unveiled new guidelines on political messages, said that those who forward hate messages will also be held liable.

"People will go to jail for forwarding inflammatory messages," Ndemo said. He said by December, when all Sim cards are expected to have been registered and counterfeits handsets switched off, the police will be able to trace anyone misusing their phones.

The 'Guidelines for the prevention of Transmission of undesirable bulk political messages via electronic communication networks' took effect yesterday.

The penalty for persons found guilty of using mobile platforms to threaten, incite, abuse, insult, and stirring up ethnic hatred face a fine of up to Sh 1 million or be jailed for up to three years, or both.

The rules have been developed by CCK in consultation with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the Registrar of Political Parties, mobile network operators, content service providers and the police.

Under the guidelines, mobile operators and content service providers will have the right to accept or reject hate messages from political groups.

To cut off unsolicited messages, senders of bulk messages will also have to produce evidence that the receivers have signed up, and even then the messages can only be sent between 8am and 6pm.

Francis Wangusi, CCK director general, said police are already monitoring such offences. In 2007 when the political violence erupted, hate messages were being transmitted through SMS, but this has since moved to social media.

However the guidelines have some loopholes. For instance it is hard to catch an original offender if the content was sent outside the country.

"That is a loophole but we will be working on it. we will work with neighboring countries to control sending of inflammatory messages from them," Ndemo said.

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