On 28 November, the Society’s legal representatives appeared before Justice Chacha Mwita. According to the society, during the appearance, the judge affirmed that Kenya is a Secular State and directed that the parties appear before him in a week.
On 15 August, the petitioner informed the court that he has had challenges in filing his submissions. As a result the court granted him until the end of the day. The matter will now be mentioned on 28 November.
On 12 June, the petition against Atheists in Kenya Society was mentioned in court. The petitioner has been given 14 days to submit their arguments in writing, and AIK will have 21 days to respond. A judgment is therefore expected on 31 July.
An appearance scheduled for 15 March was adjourned after legal representatives for the other parties failed to appear in court. The next appearance is scheduled for 12 June. Should legal representatives of the plaintiffs fail to appear, the judge may decide to hear the case in their absence.
On 29 November, representatives of Atheists in Kenya Society appeared before the Registrar of the High Court. According to Atheists in Kenya Society, at the appearance on 29 November, lawyers acting on their behalf indicated that they were ready to proceed in the matter, however, lawyers acting on behalf of the plaintiff indicated that they needed more time in order to gather evidence. Another individual is also reported to have appeared in court seeking to be enjoined to the case as an interested party.
On 31 October, lawyers acting on behalf of the society pro bono filed the society’s response to the petition. The society contends that the petition is frivolous and devoid of substance, based on the misinterpretation of applicable law and the Constitution.
On 27 September, the Atheists In Kenya Society was served with a petition before the High Court of Kenya seeking to have the organization’s registration revoked on grounds that the registration and continued existence are unconstitutional.
The petition, reviewed by Humanists International, wrongly claims the organization’s registration and continued operation violate several articles of the Kenyan Constitution, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, as well as its preamble which acknowledges the “supremacy of the Almighty God of all creation.” The petitioner – a known Christian fundamentalist – labels atheism “dangerous for the human mind and mankind.”
Founded in 2013, Atheists in Kenya Society is an Associate Member of Humanists International. The organization, which unites Kenya’s atheist community, became the first non-religious society to be registered under the Societies Act (CAP108) in February 2016 after its initial rejection. However, only two months later the organization’s registration was suspended after the then-attorney general, Prof. Githu Muigai cited complaints from religious groups.
The organization’s founder and President, Harrison Mumia, challenged their suspension at the High Court, succeeding in the reinstatement of society’s status in 2018.
Since its establishment the organization has worked to provide a community for atheists and foster open, rational, and scientific examination of the universe as well as advocate on the basis of humanist principles. They have sought to create acceptance of atheists living in Kenya.
A secular nation on paper, Kenya’s Constitution enshrines the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion. However, Christian and Muslim groups appear to benefit from a privileged position in society. The allegations made in the petition appear to be based on a lack of understanding of the right to freedom of religion or belief as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (quoted in the petition), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which Kenya is a signatory – and, by extension, the Kenyan Constitution.
UN General Comment No. 22 clarifies that, “Article 18 protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The terms ‘belief’ and ‘religion’ are to be broadly construed. Article 18 is not limited in its application to traditional religions or to religions and beliefs with institutional characteristics or practices analogous to those of traditional religions.” International law is therefore clear in conveying the right to manifest one’s beliefs equally to all, limited only by restrictions that are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. In short, atheism and theism are protected equally as manifestations of the fundamental right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.
The Republic of Kenya is situated between Somalia and Uganda. The population is largely Christian (85.5%), with a large Muslim minority (10.9%), with other religious minorities making up the rest of the population.
Atheists in Kenya are vastly in the minority, both to the Christian majority and the smaller Muslim population. There is significant religious influence on social and moral issues, detrimental to human rights standards and equalities.
In recent years, there has been growing terrorist violence in Kenya, which in part has contributed to new laws that put restrictions on freedom of expression.
Humanists International is concerned that Atheists in Kenya Society and its members are being targeted simply for exercising their rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression and calls on the High Court of Kenya to quash the petition to suspend their registration.
Humanists International has provided funding to cover administrative costs associated with their legal case, and continues to monitor the case closely.