Last Updated: Friday, 02 December 2016, 15:22 GMT

Kenya: High Court lifts ban on play

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 19 April 2013
Cite as Article 19, Kenya: High Court lifts ban on play, 19 April 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/519dd490b0.html [accessed 4 December 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes a decision by the High Court to lift a ban on a play about power and inequality among ethnic groups in the country.

The Ministry of Education's National Drama Committee had banned a school group from performing 'Shackles of Doom' at the upcoming National Drama Festival on the grounds that the play was likely to incite hatred and as a result endanger national security.

The court ruled that there had been an abuse of process in the decision to ban the play and removed the ban, in response to a petition by the human rights activist Okiya Omtatah.

"This decision sends a strong message to those who wish to silence speech or censor artistic expression in Kenya. It is crucial that people are able voice their thoughts, to raise issues of public importance and to produce creative works that inspire and provoke discussion and debate around those issues. Freedom of expression for all people is vital for a healthy democratic society" said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

On 15 April 2013 ARTICLE 19 wrote:

ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to lift a ban on a play about power and inequality among ethnic groups in the country. The Ministry of Education's National Drama Committee has prohibited the Butere Girls High School from performing 'Shackles of Doom' at the upcoming National Drama Festival on the grounds that it is likely to incite hatred and therefore breaches national security. ARTICLE 19 finds this ban to be a violation of freedom of expression, which is protected in both the constitution of Kenya and under international law

"This kind of ban is reminiscent of the 1980's and 1990's when freedom of expression was routinely censored under trumped up claims of sedition. Voices and viewpoints which did not support the Government were often silenced. Kenya has fought long and hard to enjoy the plurality that it does today. These hard won gains must not be squandered by suppressing artistic freedom on the basis of unsubstantiated national security concerns" said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

The right to freedom of expression includes the right to create and share artistic works, including plays that may be considered by some to be contentious, insensitive or offensive. Controversy is not a legitimate reason for banning a play and censorship of this kind has a dangerous chilling effect on free speech and artistic expression.

The ability for all people to speak freely, receive and impart information and to engage in open debate about issues of public importance is vital for a healthy democracy.

The "Shackles of Doom" ban should be understood as a response to the social and political climate. Kenya is attempting to address historical injustices, the inequitable distribution of resources, divisions and discrimination. Artistic expression, among others, plays a crucial role in ventilating these issues as part of the process of cohesion and reconciliation.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Ministry of Education to review the National Drama Committee's decision and lift the ban on the play.

ARTICLE 19 also calls on the government to denounce this censorship as an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression in accordance with Section 33 of the Constitution of Kenya and the African Charter of Human and Peoples rights to which Kenya is a party.

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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