13 December 2013

Kenya Stifles Media and Shuns Police Oversight

Kenya's Parliament is considering a slew of laws that will increase executive powers, while stripping away independent oversight authority that was deliberately created in the past few years to improve accountability and limit executive power.

On December 4, Kenya's Parliament rightly voted down proposed legislation that would have greatly restricted nongovernmental organisations by capping foreign funding and introducing stricter government scrutiny. They acknowledged the provisions were unconstitutional.

But one day later, Parliament failed to apply the same standards when it adopted a damaging new media law, the Kenya Information and Communications Act.

If they pass another proposed media law, the Media Council Bill, the two laws will seriously restrict the work of journalists and independent media in Kenya and give the government enormous space for censorship.

There is no question: these laws severely impinge on freedom of expression which is protected under the new Kenyan constitution.

The President should reject these laws in their current form. Both bills need to be revised and should include amendments proposed by the media.

But the threats do not end with the media laws.

Proposed amendments to two other laws currently being debated by Parliament would expand the legal use of lethal force by police, weaken civilian oversight over police abuses, and increase executive control over police.

These amendments would reverse some of the reforms that were identified and incorporated in the Kenyan constitution in 2010 in an effort to reduce the appalling record of extrajudicial killings, brutality, and corruption within the Kenyan police.

All these laws may seem unconnected, but there is a common thread. All of them would return power to the executive branch and reduce the powers of the independent oversight mechanisms designed to limit presidential power and improve accountability.

Combined with the President's current efforts to disband the recently-established independent oversight body for the Kenyan judiciary, these initiatives look suspiciously like an effort to return Kenya to the system where authority is not accountable for rights abuses, as was the norm in the country's first four decades.

Leslie Lefkow is the deputy director for Human Rights Watch's Africa Division

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