Anti-tax protests: CA allays fears of internet shutdown

David Mugonyi

Director General of the Communications Authority of Kenya David Mugonyi.

Photo credit: Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • CA boss Mugonyi said the agency had received numerous inquiries on the matter.
  • Law Society of Kenya President Faith Odhiambo condemned the potential move.

The Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) says it has no plans to interfere with social media or shut down the internet ahead of Tuesday’s (June 25, 2024) #RejectFinanceBill2024 demonstrations.

CA Director-General and CEO David Mugonyi said the agency had received numerous inquiries regarding an internet shutdown.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority has no intention whatsoever to shut down internet traffic or interfere with the quality of connectivity.

Such actions would be a betrayal of the Constitution as a whole, the freedom of expression in particular and our own ethos,” he said.

Mr Mugonyi explained that such actions would also sabotage the country’s fast-growing digital economy as internet connectivity supports thousands of livelihoods across the country.

“We urge Kenyans to use the digital space with respect for all and within the confines of the law,” he told Nation.

This comes after a joint statement by Amnesty International Kenya and partners claimed that President William Ruto’s government is contemplating a total internet shutdown.

Amnesty went on to remind the government that shutting down or throttling the internet, shadow-banning hashtags or banning live coverage are gross violations of human rights.

Content creators

“Kenyans have the right to organise, demonstrate, and engage in policymaking,” the organisation said in an official tweet as 27 international organisations and Kenyan associations of content creators, lawyers, medical officers and human rights defenders expressed deep concerns about the potential of possible internet and mass media disruptions during this week’s demonstrations.

The group said that the internet and mass media are critical for the enjoyment of the public’s right to be informed, citizens’ self-expression, e-commerce and the digital economy that is responsible for close to 10 percent of the GDP.

“#RejectFinanceBill2024 hashtag is not just a trending topic on social media. It symbolises citizens organizing an important dialogue on the 2024 Finance Bill and its implications for our national economy and all our livelihoods,” Amnesty and partners explained.

The government was also told that disrupting mass communication would also increase national insecurity, cut off the public and authorities from reliable updates, and choke off the timely deployment of emergency medical services and the search for missing persons. Internet shutdowns also halt online transactions, slow economic activity and cause economic damage.

"Internet and mass media disruptions severely restrict human rights monitoring and reporting on government security operations.

As documented in the ACCESS 2023 report, total or partial internet shutdowns are becoming familiar with Government strategies for responding to public protests,” Amnesty and partners said while pointing out that partially or totally shutting down the internet covers up grave violations of human rights, state-sanctioned violence against peaceful protestors, abductions and killings.

 Kenyan authorities were also reminded that they are obligated to protect the right to right to conscience, opinion, self-expression, and association as enshrined in Kenyan law and international frameworks to which they are party.

The group added that at this critical democratic juncture in the country, it is important that the government appreciates the crucial role of the internet and mass media in policy discourse and refrains from any form of internet shutdown or media interference.

“We call upon the government of Kenya and the Communications Authority to affirm that the people of Kenya can access an open, reliable, secure and free internet and a free press at a time when they need it the most, “they said.

Uphold freedoms

Amnesty International Kenya and partners also urged social media platforms such as TikTok and X to push back and uphold freedoms enshrined in Kenya’s constitution and international human rights standards should the government attempt to block or restrict social and mass media during the #RejectFinanceBill2024 protests.

“Censorship or restricting access to social and mass media will be unlawful and counterproductive at this time,” they told President Ruto’s government.

Speaking on the matter, the Law Society of Kenya President Faith Odhiambo condemned the potential move.

“The government continues to perpetuate unconstitutional infringements of the rights of Kenyans in its determination to quell public dissent. We are apprehensive of disquieting reports of plans to shut down and/or interfere with internet connectivity during tomorrow's protests," Ms Odhiambo said adding that such a move would be an affront to Articles 33, 34, and 35 of the Constitution.

“We firmly warn the government against taking such ill-advised, unconstitutional actions,” she said.