Estimates show that (85.5%) of the 53.5 million population of Kenya is Christian, with a Muslim minority of 11%. Other religious minorities include Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, and various traditional religious beliefs. Ethnicity and religion in Kenya are often correlated. Most of the Muslim population lives in the northeast and coastal regions or communities in the capital Nairobi.

The human rights situation is of concern. Human rights issues include: unlawful killings by the government or other groups; violence by security forces; arbitrary interference with privacy; interference with individuals’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression; serious acts of corruption combined with lack of accountability, among other concerns.

Reports also indicate an increase in arrests of activists, journalists, and human rights defenders. Journalists face physical assault, arrest, threats, and lack of access to public information.

The Somalia-based terrorist group Al-Shabaab operates in parts of Kenya, mainly in coastal areas and along the border with Somalia. Al-Shabab systematically targets individuals for their faith and poses a substantial threat to those who leave Islam.  A report on freedom of religion or belief informed of religiously motivated threats of societal violence and intolerance, including threats from communities towards individuals who converted from Islam to Christianity.

Kenya’s Constitution and bill of rights:

Kenya’s Constitution states there is no state religion (Article 8) and lays out a secular system of law. The Constitution protects the rights to freedom of expression (Article 33), freedom of the media (Article 34), freedom of association and assembly (Articles 36 and 27), and freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion (Article 32).

In its concluding observations following Kenya’s fourth periodic review, the UN Human Rights Committee recommended, among other things, that the government should engage in the harmonization of all legal standards relating to freedom of expression, including online and the provisions of the Covenant and Articles 33 and 34 of the Constitution.

‘Blasphemy’ laws 

Kenya criminalizes insult to religion under Sections 134 and 138 of thePenal Code. Such offences are punishable by a fine of up to two years in prison.

Section 134 reads:

Insult to religion: Any person who destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship or any object which is held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, is guilty of a misdemeanour.”

Section 138 reads:

Writing or uttering words with intent to wound religious feelings: Any person who, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any other person, writes any word, or any person who, with the like intention, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of any other person or makes any gesture or places any object in the sight of any other person, is guilty of a misdemeanour and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”

Crimes against the property of religious groups or places of worship are more likely to be treated as malicious destruction of property. Researchers have not been able to identify cases where this law has been applied.