It's time for Kenya to review libel laws

In Summary

• Murungaru's award of Sh27 million was highest since Sh30 million for Biwott in 1999.

•  Githongo prepared the Anglo-Leasing dossier for President Kibaki in 2005.

Booklet containing the constitution of Kenya
Booklet containing the constitution of Kenya
Image: FILE

On Monday there was an odd coincidence.

Justice Joseph Sergon was interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission and asked to justify awarding Sh27 million damages to former Internal Security minister Chris Murungaru for defamation by John Githongo.

At the same time, Kenya Human Rights Commissioner George Kegoro was telling civil society that Kenya's libel laws have become a way for the powerful to stifle criticism.

 
 

Murungaru's award was the highest since Nicholas Biwott got Sh30 million during the Moi era. He sued Githongo for connecting him to the Anglo-Leasing scam in a dossier prepared in 2005 as anti-corruption PS for President Kibaki.

Whether Githongo was right or wrong to link Murungaru to Anglo-Leasing, he was still acting as a government officer and should have been protected by legal privilege from defamation proceedings. 

Kegoro is right. The law of libel has been twisted to stifle fair comment and criticism. Awards are now so high that they may bankrupt media houses as they struggle with lost revenue because of the digital revolution.

The JSC should initiate a review of libel law as the KHRC proposes.

Quote of the day: "My memory will be that of a man of dignity who was loyal to his country."

Salvador Allende
The Chilean president was born on June 26, 1908.