Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a new law outlawing abuse of people on social media but which critics say could be exploited to repress civil liberties.
Proponents of the law, including legislators who pushed it through parliament, say the proliferation of social media has given rise to new crimes including online scams, not covered by previous laws.
New York-based media rights watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warned the bill could criminalise free speech, “with journalists and bloggers likely to be among the first victims if it is signed into law”.
The law lays the ground for investigation and prosecution of computer and cybercrimes including cyber-harassment and “publication of false information”, a statement from the presidency said.
Violations to be penalised under the law include cyber-espionage, false publications, child pornography, computer-borne forgery, cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying among others, the statement said, without spelling out penalties.
Offenders convicted for sharing “false” or “fictitious” information and propagating hate speech will be liable to a fine of five million shillings ($49,776.01) or sentenced to two years in jail, or both.
Lawmakers passed the bill last month despite protests from media practitioners and rights activists that its provisions could be used to stifle press freedom.
Kenya joins other countries in the region that have passed laws activists say will curtail free expression.
Earlier this month, Tanzanian bloggers and rights activists won a temporary court injunction against a government order to register online platforms that raised concerns about a crackdown on free speech.