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27 local & international organisations warn against internet shutdown in Kenya

Internet shutdowns have become a familiar strategy for governments responding to public protests

A photo of people using their phones
  • 27 international organizations and Kenyan associations expressed concerns over potential internet and mass media disruptions during planned protests against the Finance Bill 2024
  • Disruptions would severely undermine citizens' rights to organize, demonstrate, and participate in policymaking processes
  • Signatories emphasized the critical role of the internet and mass media in ensuring the public's right to be informed, freedom of expression, and the digital economy

In a joint statement released on June 24, twenty-seven international organisations and Kenyan associations, including content creators, lawyers, medical officers, and human rights defenders, have expressed deep concerns over the potential for internet and mass media disruptions during the planned protests against the Finance Bill 2024.

The organisations warned that any such disruptions would severely undermine the rights of citizens to organise, demonstrate, and participate in policymaking processes.

The statement highlighted the critical role of the internet and mass media in ensuring the public’s right to be informed, freedom of expression, and the digital economy, which constitutes nearly 10% of Kenya's GDP.

The signatories emphasised that shutting down or throttling the internet, shadow banning hashtags, or imposing a mass media ban on live reporting would constitute a gross violation of fundamental human rights.

The #RejectFinanceBill2024 hashtag has gained traction on social media, symbolising the citizens’ collective efforts to organise and engage in meaningful dialogue regarding the Finance Bill and its implications for the national economy and livelihoods.

The organisations pointed out that disrupting mass communication would exacerbate national uncertainty, hinder the provision of emergency medical services, and impede the tracing of missing persons.

Furthermore, internet shutdowns would halt online transactions, slow economic activity, and cause significant economic harm.

According to the ACCESS 2023 report, internet shutdowns have become a familiar strategy for governments responding to public protests, often masking human rights violations such as state-sanctioned violence, abductions, and killings.

The statement reiterated that Kenyan authorities are obligated to protect the rights to conscience, opinion, self-expression, and association, as enshrined in Kenyan law and international frameworks.

At this critical democratic juncture, the statement urged the Government of Kenya to recognise the essential role of the internet and mass media in policy discourse and to refrain from any form of internet shutdown or media interference.

The organisations called upon the Government and the Communications Authority to ensure that Kenyans have access to an open, reliable, secure, and free internet and press, particularly during times of significant public discourse.

Should the Government attempt to block or restrict social and mass media during the #RejectFinanceBill2024 protests, the statement urged social media platforms to uphold the freedoms guaranteed by Kenya's constitution and international human rights standards.

Any form of censorship or restriction would be unlawful and counterproductive, the organisations warned.

The statement was signed by prominent organisations, including Access Now, Amnesty International Kenya, Article 19 Eastern Africa, the Law Society of Kenya, the Police Reforms Working Group, the Bloggers Association of Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission, and the Kenya Medical Association.

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