Westgate
The Kenyan government has been under pressure to get tough on terrorists since last year’s Westgate Mall massacre

A senior Kenyan official at the State House has dismissed the United States’ concerns over a new Kenyan law aimed at fighting “terrorism”.

Highlights:

  • President Uhuru Kenyatta, on Friday, signed the law his government says will help fight terrorism
  • US State Department says it is concerned about provisions that appear to limit freedom of assembly and media, and access to asylum for refugees
  • But Kenyan officials argue that Kenya’s new law has checks and balances, unlike US security laws
  • Kenya’s main opposition group, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy is worried that the real target of the new law is not terrorism but to reintroduce the police state and political hegemony

Details

On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the law his government says will help fight terrorism. The president said the law will protect the lives of all citizens. But critics in Kenya have said it will be used to crush dissent by curbing civil liberties.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reacted immediately, saying that the US was concerned about the move.

“We’re…concerned about provisions that appear to limit freedom of assembly and media, and access to asylum for refugees.”

But Munyori Buku, a senior Kenyan official at the State House said in a statement on the presidential website that Kenya’s new law had checks and balances, unlike US security laws that have created the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and given the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence officers “a carte blanche in the fight against terrorism and biological warfare”.

Opposition

Kenya’s main opposition group, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy said the real target of the new law was not terrorism but to reintroduce the police state and political hegemony, and would hand the president sweeping autocratic powers.

The controversial measures extend the time police can hold “terror suspects” from the current 90 days to nearly a year, increase sentences and give more powers to tap phones.

Journalists could face up to three years behind bars if their reports “undermine investigations or security operations relating to terrorism,” or if they publish images of “terror victims” without permission from the police.

“This is a serious assault on the freedoms that Kenyans are enjoying today. We believe that the amendments are just a way of sugarcoating the bill,” said opposition coalition leader Moses Wetangula, referring to minor changes made to the bill.

Munyori Buku’s comments come a day after another attack on civilians along the Kenyan coast close to the border with Somalia. Gunmen opened fire on a passenger bus on Sunday, but fled without injuring anyone.

The government of the East African nation has faced mounting calls to get tough on terrorism since 67 people were killed last year in an attack launched on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi by neighbouring Somalia’s al-Shabab.

The armed group has vowed to step up attacks on Kenyan soil in retaliation for Kenya’s military presence in Somalia as part of the African Union force supporting the country’s fragile government.

NP/Aljazeera

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