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Ban on play performance in Kenya must be lifted

ARTICLE 19 calls on the government to lift a ban on a play about power and inequality among ethnic groups in the country. The Ministry of Education's National Drama Committee has prohibited the Butere Girls High School from performing "Shackles of Doom" at the upcoming National Drama Festival on the grounds that it is likely to incite hatred and therefore breaches national security. ARTICLE 19 finds this ban to be a violation of freedom of expression, which is protected in both the constitution of Kenya and under international law

“This kind of ban is reminiscent of the 1980's and 1990's when freedom of expression was routinely censored under trumped up claims of sedition. Voices and viewpoints which did not support the Government were often silenced. Kenya has fought long and hard to enjoy the plurality that it does today. These hard won gains must not be squandered by suppressing artistic freedom on the basis of unsubstantiated national security concerns” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

The right to freedom of expression includes the right to create and share artistic works, including plays that may be considered by some to be contentious, insensitive or offensive. Controversy is not a legitimate reason for banning a play and censorship of this kind has a dangerous chilling effect on free speech and artistic expression.

The ability for all people to speak freely, receive and impart information and to engage in open debate about issues of public importance is vital for a healthy democracy.

The “Shackles of Doom” ban should be understood as a response to the social and political climate. Kenya is attempting to address historical injustices, the inequitable distribution of resources, divisions and discrimination. Artistic expression, among others, plays a crucial role in ventilating these issues as part of the process of cohesion and reconciliation.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Ministry of Education to review the National Drama Committee's decision and lift the ban on the play.

ARTICLE 19 also calls on the government to denounce this censorship as an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression in accordance with Section 33 of the Constitution of Kenya and the African Charter of Human and Peoples rights to which Kenya is a party.

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