Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in anti-fake news campaign
|bbc.com 16 May 2018 at 08:00|
A new law in Kenya is the latest in East Africa to punish the spreading of "false information" and impose a lengthy jail term on offenders.
It proposes a fine of $50,000 (£37,000) and/or up to two years in prison for publishing "false" information.
The Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes law also criminalises abuse on social media and cyber bullying.
Critics of the "fake news" laws in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania say they are meant to muzzle independent media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists had urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to send back the bill to parliament to remove clauses that it says violated press freedom and freedom of expression.
The rights body said that parts of the law criminalised unauthorised access and sharing of government data which would remove protection for whistle-blowers.
According to Kenya s Editor s Guild, the law "may be abused by state authorities to curtail media freedom".
President Kenyatta said in a statement that the new law would provide a legal basis to prosecute cybercrimes, including child pornography, computer fraud and identity theft.
The law also criminalises "unauthorised interference to a computer system" saying that offenders will be fined $100,000 or five years in prison if it threatens national security or results in financial loss.
In March, several MPs complained of cyber bullying, with some lawmakers saying they had been receiving unsolicited nude pictures while others said their names had been used to open fake social media accounts.
Critics of the new law, however, say that some clauses in the new law are an attempt to return a section of a criminal law that found offenders liable for "undermining the authority of a public officer", which has been used to arrest bloggers for posting comments that some government officials did not like.
Image caption The Kenyan media see the new law as another attempt to muzzle them
Some bloggers in Kenya have become big media influencers - they boast thousands, sometimes a million, followers on social media platforms and they are known to sell their influence in support of causes online.
Their reputation has earned them the moniker "keyboard warriors".
They were especially busy during last year s election, which was awash with false information on social media.
A local lawyer has wondered about the fate of the government-allied bloggers:
If GoK is serious about enforcing the Cybercrimes Bill it should start from within itself. Head of Presidential Delivery Dennis Itumbi and his gang of 36 bloggers, some with HSC should be the first ones to be charged. Next, all spokesmen in charge of official GoK Twitter accounts
The situation is not dissimilar in neighbouring Tanzania where authorities recently published new regulations which require bloggers to pay $920 (£660) for the privilege of posting content online.
The government says it wants to protect the East African nation from "lies" being spread online, although critics see it as a way of muzzling freedom of expression.
Image caption President John Magufuli has backed controversial blogging laws
President John Magufuli says he aims "to weed out" what he refers to as a "disease".
The new rules require all online publishers including bloggers, vloggers and podcasters to register and pay $480 for a three-year licence, plus an annual fee of $440.
The High Court however halted the 5 May implementation of the regulations after a group of activists and representatives from the media challenged them.
If the law passes the court challenge, it would punish offenders with a fine of not less than $2,000 or imprisonment of not less than 12 months, or both.
Tanzania s Bloggers Network said that they were worried about the impact the new regulations would have on its members, suggesting that some may have to stop running their blogs.
A co-founder of the country s most popular website Jamii Forums, a messaging-board, which is dubbed "Swahili Wikileaks , said it might consider closing because of a clause in the regulations that require them to store their contributors details for 12 months.
In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni s government has put on hold plans for a "social media " tax after the finance ministry said that it would need to consult on how such a tax plan would be implemented.