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By Aditi Roy

Freedom of speech is one of the basic pillars of democracy. It is a crucial element in self expression by citizens to bring control over the authoritative figures in government. Mass media is said to be the “fourth power” after the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of the democratic system. Without freedom of speech, democracy is no different from a tyrannical polity. Governments across East Asia have been suppressing the rights of journalists, and Kenya is in danger of falling into the pattern of their neighbors. Kenya has maintained a consistent democratic government since it gained its independence from Britain in 1963. However, a new bill has been proposed that will implement harsh penalties on journalists if they publish articles considered “harmful” by the government, which has already managed to shut down independent newspapers across the country. Journalists are seen as supporters for the trials against current President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, in which they were accused by the ICC for committing crimes against humanity for allegedly funding violence during the 2007 elections. If this bill is passed, the government may impose fines up to $240,000 on media companies and seize journalist properties, have strong control of the media, and create restrictions against advertisement from foreign companies. Critics argue that this sort of censorship would be bringing Kenya back to the pre-democratic era of British dictatorship, when all media was strictly censored. This law would cause many journalists to reside from their positions of self censor, as with the elections of March 2013, when instead of focusing on media coverage, journalists were self censoring in order to avoid election conflicts and maintain peace. This type of oppression is in full effect and even more despotic in neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, where journalists have been imprisoned on “terrorism claims” and arrested without charge. Even in Burundi, journalists are prosecuted if they publish articles about national security with fines up to $6000. Such fines are detrimental to journalists in these areas who barely make a few hundred dollars a month. Journalists all across East Africa remain in jeopardy as their governments become more and more rigid about their publications and freedom of speech. If citizens are unable to be informed about their country’s regime because journalists are unable to have the right to have their voices heard due to government oppression, how can that country be considered a democracy? If their freedom of speech is being seized from their hands today, what will be their fate tomorrow?

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