Kenya shrugs off US criticism of new security law

DECEMBER 23, 2014

A senior Kenyan official at the State House has reportedly criticised the United States for raising concerns about a new controversial Kenyan security law which Nairobi claims is aimed at fighting "terrorism".

Better than the US human rights record

Munyori Buku 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".

On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the law his government says will help fight terrorism – especially in the face of attacks from Somali-based jihadist group, al-Shabaab.

Buku's comments also came a day after another attack on civilians along the Kenyan coast close to the border with Somalia. On Sunday, gunmen opened fire on a passenger bus and fled without injuring anyone.

Kenya also faces 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 al-Shabaab.

The terrorist 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.

Kenyatta said the law will protect the lives of all citizens.

Criticism

However, critics in Kenya have said it will be used to crush dissent by curbing civil liberties.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday said 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.''

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.

Controversial security law

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.

Death squads

The developments come days after an Al Jazeera documentary, Inside Kenya's Death Squads, uncovered extra-judidical killings in Kenya, in the name of fighting terrorism.

In the film, officers from four units of Kenya’s counter-terrorism apparatus, admit that Kenyan police assassinated suspects on government orders.

The Kenyan government has since lodged a complaint with Al Jazeera describing the documentary as "inaccurate, biased and inflammatory."