Kenya approves anti-terror laws over international opposition
by Moses Wasamu
Posted 12/26/14, 09:00 am
U.S. officials have rebuked the Kenyan government over a new anti-terror law passed just before Christmas that enacts sweeping restrictions on individual liberty in one of Africa’s most stable democracies.
“Protecting Kenya’s constitution and upholding human rights, democracy, and international obligations are among the most effective ways to bolster security,” said Jen Psaki, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman.
In a hard-hitting rejoinder, the office of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said the U.S. government had no right to question laws passed through the proper legislative process. Kenyatta asked U.S. officials to take time to read the new laws before commenting on them.
“Our law doesn’t curtail the freedom of assembly and the State Department should read the law as passed, and not go by what its associates want them to believe,” he said in a statement.
Kenyatta further castigated the U.S. government, insisting the Kenyan law was better than its U.S. counterpart.
“Our law is better than the American Patriot and Homeland Security Acts that give rogue powers to security agencies. … But our law has provided checks by courts of law,” he said.
But U.S. officials aren’t the only ones worried about the Security Laws (Amendment) Act 2014. Opponents in Kenya argue sections of the act are unconstitutional and violate the rights of individuals. They also say the new law violates the right to fair trial and being presumed innocent until proven guilty. The Coalition for Reforms and Democracy has filed suit to stop its implementation. In his court filing, the opposition lawyer said offenses created under the new act are oppressive and unjustifiable.
Before the bill went to parliament for its last reading, nine Western envoys urged members of Parliament not to rush but to carefully review it and consult widely to build consensus.
Opponents now allege the public was not given a chance to air its views, since the law was taken to Parliament just one day after it was drafted. They argue this is against the constitution, which gives room for public participation in the enactment of laws.
“The cumulative effect of the amendments could return Kenya to the police state of the 1980s and 90s, and nullify recent progress on protecting human rights,” said Amnesty International’s Muthoni Wanyeki before the bill’s passage.
Several other provisions introduce new, broadly defined offenses that could be used against people who associate, knowingly or not, with terrorist suspects, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.
But the final law is not as harsh as its first draft. Whereas it initially proposed terrorism suspects could be kept in custody for 36 months, the final version says suspects cannot be detained for more than 24 hours. A court must give its consent for any extension. The police also will not have the authority to tap and intercept telephone communication without a court order.
Provisions penalizing journalists and social media users remained in place: Journalists can be jailed for up to three years and fined 5 million shillings for publishing or broadcasting photographs of terror victims without police consent. Another provision forbids broadcast of any information which undermines investigations or security operations relating to terrorism. It applies to journalists and anyone using social media.
The crackdown on media comes after Al-Jazeera recently aired a controversial documentary called “Inside Kenya’s Death Squads,” in which alleged members of a police counter-terrorism unit confessed they were responsible for killing radical Muslim clerics in the coastal town of Mombasa. The government has denied those claims and ordered investigations into the allegations with the intent to bring charges against those involved in the documentary.
The Kenyan government has been under pressure to get tough on terrorism after 64 people were killed in two terrorist attacks in the north. Al-Shabaab militants targeted Christians in the attacks, executing anyone who couldn’t recite a passage from the Quran.