Proposed NIS Bill to reverse freedom gains
Last updated on 18 Aug 2012 00:00
Constitutional lawyer Haron Olando of Olando, Udoto & Okello Advocates describes the definition as vague and a potential tool of repression. He argues the Bill is an extreme form of censorship as it prohibits unauthorised access and retention of information by any person who is not a member of the NIS. “Given the vital role played by media in Kenya, this amounts to gagging the media,” Olando says.
Civil society and human rights campaigners say the State is seeking to revoke basic rights through the backdoor. According to Article 35 of the Constitution: “Every citizen has the right of access to: information held by the State; and information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom.”
It further says: “The State shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation.”
In the National Intelligence Bill, classified information can only be obtained with the authority of the Director General of the NIS or the relevant Cabinet Secretary (minister). Information gained without their authority must be destroyed. Failing to do so is an offence that attracts a three-year imprisonment on conviction.
Harun Ndubi says provisions on classified information will be a drawback to media, political and academic freedoms, as well as legal practice.
“The Bill is fraught with ambiguities,” he says. “For instance, who decides that information is a security risk? Ordinary people do not have the expertise to tell classified from non-classified information.”