Overview:

Atheists In Kenya and their chair, Harrison Mumia, are fighting legal efforts to shut them down.

They've been here before.

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Atheists in Kenya (AIK) was in court again last Tuesday. Former MP Stephen Ndichu brought a case in September to have the only official atheist organisation in Kenya deregistered. Ndichu is a Christian fundamentalist and a friend of President Ruto.

Established six years ago by Harrison Mumia, AIK has been involved in many secular campaigns to improve the public life of Kenyans. In 2016, they petitioned the government to make churches pay taxes and to remove “God” from the national anthem. In 2019 they pushed to remove religious education from public schools.

There is a lot of public misunderstanding about atheism in Kenya. The vast majority of Kenyans are Christian or Muslims but atheists numbered half a million in the last census. Unofficial statistics report a much higher number, mostly due to a combination of politics and poor wording on the census form.

It looks like an open-and-shut case, but this is not Mumia’s first rodeo.

Ndichu’s case argues that atheists create “adverse and cynical effects” on Kenya and that their mere existence is unconstitutional. The preamble to the Constitution of Kenya does indeed acknowledge the “supremacy of the Almighty God”. However, Article 32 (1) of the Kenyan Bill of Rights says that everyone “has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion”. AIK has often quoted Article 27 (4) which says the government “shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including … religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.”

An established pattern

It looks like an open-and-shut case but this is not Mumia’s first rodeo. In 2016, the Attorney General suspended AIK after pressure from religious groups. One of these groups was the Kenya National Congress of Pentecostal Churches and Ministries, of which Ndichu was the vice chair. The High Court in Nairobi determined that it was in fact AIK’s “constitutional and statutory rights” which were violated but it was a costly legal process for Mumia and lasted two years.

It seems reasonable to suggest that these cases meet the criteria for SLAPP suits which are a form of legal harassment designed to intimidate critical voices into silence. SLAPP suits allow powerful and wealthy individuals who can afford to drag on abusive proceedings for years shield themselves from unwanted public scrutiny. There are anti-SLAPP laws in many countries.

AIK is a member of Humanists International who have publicly supported Mumia in his commitment to find this case in court. AIK is also a member of Atheist Alliance International (AAI) who promised publicity and $1,500 to help with legal fees but at time of writing have delivered neither. In fact, at least two posts with links to AIK’s gofundme page (arranged by Michael Sherlock) were deleted from AAI’s Facebook page for unknown reasons.

Mumia’s case was heard on 22 November but has been adjourned until 29 November. The Atheists In Kenya legal defense fund is still accepting donations.

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Barry Purcell lives in Ireland and writes about religion, philosophy, psychology, politics and language for a variety of paper and online publications. He has been involved in campaigns to counteract the...