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Kenya: Court rules to temporarily remove ban on Rafiki film

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the temporary removal of a ban on the public showing of the film Rafiki following a decision by a High Court in Nairobi last week on 21 September.

The film can now be viewed in public until 28 September even as the petition challenging several provisions of the Films and Stage Plays Act CAP 222 and Kenya Films Classification Board (KFCB) Guidelines 2012 continues. ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa is involved in this case as Interested Party and will be addressing the court on the legal provisions and limitations of freedom of expression and how this right should be granted in an equal and non-discriminatory manner.

The conservatory orders came after the producer of the film, Wanuri Kahiu, together with the Creative Economy Working Group, an arts sector ensemble championing policy reforms for the creative sector moved to court arguing that the Kenya Film and Classification Board (KFCB)’s April 2018 ban of the film infringed the freedom of expression enshrined in Article 33 of the Constitution of Kenya.

KFCB Chief Executive Officer Ezekiel Mutua had in April 2018 stated that the Board disallowed the public exhibition and distribution of the film in Kenya since it allegedly ‘promoted lesbianism’ which he claimed is against Kenya’s moral values.

The decision was met with huge uproar from the creative sector in Kenya, and globally, lamenting at the overzealous regulator’s approach to expression that espouses inclusivity, and the discrimination against sexual minority groups that the decision represented.

In issuing the order to remove the ban, the Court stated that the choice by an adult on to watch a film cannot be directed by KFCB or anyone for that matter, or be justified by the claim that the film would compel negative change of moral values. The KFCB has a history of excessive regulation limiting freedom of artistic expression.

Film is an important form of art and expression in this age of social media where it is easy to create and distribute content online. Indeed, it has become an important medium for raising awareness and championing rights and freedoms for subjugated groups, including LGBTI people. KFCB and other film regulatory bodies in Eastern Africa such as the Tanzania Film Board and the Uganda Communications Commission should desist from limiting freedom of artistic expression on such discriminatory bases. Such action only serves to denigrate the role of arts in society, and further embed inequality”, said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.

While the petition continues, the conservatory orders are a good indication of the court’s predisposition to a progressive appreciation of freedom of artistic expression and its intersection with the rights of sexual minorities.