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Lawyers confer on the floor of Kenya's High Court in Nairobi, next to a copy of the country's constitution, March 8, 2013. (Reuters/Steve Crisp)

Kenyan court finds criminal libel laws unconstitutional

February 6, 2017 1:30 PM ET

New York, February 6, 2017--Today's ruling by Kenya's High Court that the country's criminal defamation law is unconstitutional is a welcome step toward safeguarding press freedom and free speech, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Justice JM Mativo ruled that section 194 of Kenya's penal code is incompatible with the country's constitution and presents an unjustifiable limitation on Kenyans' freedom of expression, according to media reports.

"Today's ruling from Kenya's High Court is an important victory in the fight to protect media freedom," CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said. "We call on the government not to contest the ruling and to amend the penal code to safeguard press freedom."

The court found the law--which imposes penalties of up to two years in prison for defamation--unnecessary, excessive, and unjustifiable in an open and democratic society, and that the law creates a disproportionate limit on freedom of expression, the advocacy group Article 19, one of the parties that petitioned the court, said in a statement.

The ruling was in concert with a 2010 resolution from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights calling on member states to repeal criminal libel laws, calling them "a serious interference with freedom of expression."

A link to the court's ruling can be found here.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This text has been updated to include a link to the court's ruling.

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