Africa

Kenyan MPs back security law after heated debate

Passengers travelling to Nairobi wait to be searched for weapons in the town of Mandera at the Kenya-Somalia border, 8 December 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Bus passengers travelling to Nairobi are searched at the Kenya-Somali border

The Kenyan parliament has backed a controversial bill aimed at "enhancing the authorities' capacity" to deal with terrorism and security issues.

Members of parliament engaged in heated debate on Thursday, with the opposition saying the law would infringe basic human rights.

They and human rights groups have said they will stage protests if the bill is not amended to be less draconian.

Somali militant group al-Shabab has attacked Kenya several times recently.

The proposed law gives the president and spy agencies a range of new powers, which opposition MPs have criticised.

One MP, Fred Outa, had to be wrestled to the ground in the National Assembly when he tried to stop the vote by seizing the mace - a symbol of parliamentary authority.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has defended the bill, saying it is important for the country's security needs.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Kenyatta has said he wants the bill to become law as soon as possible

"No freedoms are being curtailed unless you are a terrorist yourself," he said in a speech on Friday.

"No part of our constitution has been violated."

The BBC's Wanyama wa Chebusiri in Nairobi says there were calls on both sides of parliament for some of the bill's most controversial elements to be amended.

These included

  • the right for the authorities to detain terror suspects for up to one year
  • the handing of powers to the intelligence agencies to tap communications without court consent
  • and the requirement for journalists to obtain police permission before investigating or publishing stories on domestic terrorism and security issues.

The bill will now be passed to a parliamentary committee for amendment, before being sent to President Kenyatta to be signed into law.

Image copyright KTN Kenya
Image caption The Somali-based Islamist group al-Shabab has attacked Kenya several times recently
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Opposition MPs criticised the bill as retrogressive and unconstitutional

Our correspondent says the committee is likely to make some amendments, given the cross-party support for this.

President Kenyatta has said he wants the bill to become law as soon as possible.

The other main elements of the proposed law include giving the president the right to hire and fire security chiefs, giving the intelligence agencies the right to arrest terror suspects and a stipulation that people found with weapons in places of worship face punishment of 20 years in jail.

It is also proposed that journalists should face jail if their reporting is judged to jeopardise prosecution of terror suspects.

'Draconian, retrogressive'

Members of the parliamentary majority said the law would help police and politicians tackle security problems in Kenya.

But opposition MP Ababu Namwamba was quoted by the Daily Nation newspaper as saying: "This law is draconian, it is retrogressive, it is unconstitutional, it entrenches impunity.

"We are today mourning the death of the constitution."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The security forces said they had recovered weapons from several mosques in Mombasa

Another MP, Eseli Simiyu, said: "The problem is not about lack of laws in this country. The problem is the lack of implementation of the existing laws."

Earlier this month, President Kenyatta promised to take urgent action on security, replacing his interior minister and police chief following a massacre by Somalia-based Islamist group al-Shabab.

The militants had killed 36 quarry workers in Mandera, in north-east Kenya, near the Somali border.

Non-Muslim workers were shot dead after being separated from Muslims.

President Kenyatta had said: "The time has come for each and every one of us to decide and choose - are you on the side of an open, free, democratic Kenya... or do you stand with repressive, intolerant extremists?"

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