Kenyan church leaders back restrictive anti-terror law

by Moses Wasamu
Posted 12/15/14, 01:30 pm

NAIROBI, Kenya—Leaders from the Anglican and Catholic churches have thrown their weight behind the Kenyan government in its attempt to create a new law to help fight terrorism.

The Security Laws (Amendments) Bill 2014 passed a second reading in Parliament last week, with a 96-45 vote. A parliamentary committee is expected to go through the bill before it can be brought to parliament for the third reading.

Supporters say the bill seeks to improve the capacity of security services to fight terrorism, but critics say it will roll back important fundamental rights.

Speaking to the media before the vote, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of the Anglican Church of Kenya and Cardinal John Njue of the Roman Catholic Church said the laws were necessary to stop runaway insecurity and asked members of parliament to enact them immediately.

But the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party rejected the bill, drafted by the Parliamentary Committee on Administration and National Security, saying it infringed on human rights and media freedom.

“The challenge of insecurity in this country is not about the law. It is the problem, the challenge of enforcement and corruption that has eaten deep into the structures, the system of security in this country,” Ababu Namwamba, the ODM secretary general, said during debate in Parliament.

Critics say the bill attempts to amend the Kenyan constitution’s Bill of Rights, which can only be done through a referendum. They say the amendment is retrogressive and ill-advised and may be used to silence government critics or those with opposing views.

Edward Kisiangani, a political science professor at Kenyatta University, said the proposed law is an attack on the constitution and must not be allowed to pass. 

“The law that is being passed by Parliament now is a reactionary move to the threat of terrorism in this country. … You cannot introduce a bill in parliament that attacks the same citizens that are already attacked by insecurity. What the government is doing is to attack citizens who are already brutalized,” he said in a televised debate.

Among other provisions, the bill would allow the police to hold anyone suspected of being a terrorist for more than a year. Currently, the law only allows police to hold a suspect for 24 hours.

The law also would give the police authority to tap and intercept telephone communications of anyone suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. Currently, the law says security officers can only intercept telephone communication with authority from the courts.

Media freedom would suffer a serious blow as well, if the law is passed without any amendments. Journalists would face a jail term of up to three years and a fine of 5 million shillings for publishing or broadcasting without police consent photographs of terror victims or information that undermines an investigation or security operation.

Another proposal forbids public meetings, gatherings, or public processions without government approval of the time and place.

Church leaders support the amendments in part because of recent incidents in which Christians have been targeted by terrorists. In the most recent attacks that took place in northern Kenya, 64 people were killed by al-Shabaab terrorists from Somalia.

“A police force bogged down with bureaucratic and weak command structures and an intelligence service that has lost touch with the realities on the ground can never be trusted to secure Kenyans,” Wabukala said.