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Reprieve for journalists as court strikes out criminal libel law

The High Court has declared as unconstitutional a section of the law that criminalises defamation.

Justice John Mativo on Monday ruled that Section 194 of the Penal Code violates the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under Article 33 of the supreme law of the land.

Two people charged separately with criminal defamation had sued challenging that law.

They sued Attorney-General Githu Muigai and Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko while Article 19, an international freedom of expression advocate, was listed as an interested party in the case.

According to the judge, there is already an appropriate and satisfactory alternative remedy for defamation.

The ruling is a big win for media houses and journalists in Kenya.

KUJ Secretary General Eric Oduor welcomed the ruling, saying it has set free journalists to do their work without fear.

“The High Court today set free journalists by declaring section 194 of Penal Code. In fact, all African countries passed a resolution to remove criminal libel from their laws. Forces of impunity have no place to hide. All pending cases now be dropped,” Mr Oduor said.

The petitioners argue that criminal defamation laws are an unnecessary and disproportionate limitation to freedom of expression under Article 33 of the Constitution of Kenya and thereby unconstitutional.  The case is very important to Journalists and Kenyans who have found themselves on the receiving end of this law due to utterances and comments about government officials and the powerful in society. The maximum jail term for one who is found guilty of criminal libel is 2 years imprisonment

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