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Kenyan MPs debate controversial new terror law after Shebab killings

December 18, 2014

Kenyan lawmakers Thursday debated controversial new security legislation that would crack down on terror suspects and curtail journalists’ freedoms.

The legislation was proposed after a string of attacks in Kenya by Somalia-based Shebab insurgents.

It includes proposals boosting the time police can hold terror suspects from the current 90 days to nearly a year, increasing sentences, and giving investigators more powers to tap phones.

Under the bill 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.

A reading of the bill was nearly inaudible during a raucous vote that included yelling and singing from opposition members.

“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.

On Wednesday nine Western countries, including the United States, Britain, Germany and France released a rare collective statement raising concerns over the bill.

“It is important that the legislation, while strengthening security, respects human rights and international obligations,” they said. “Protecting Kenya’s constitution and upholding civil liberties and democracy are among the most effective ways to bolster security.”

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta called on MPs to pass the bill in order to provide a new weapon against the country’s security risks, notably the threat posed by Islamist militants of Shebab.

Kenya’s government has been under fire since last year’s Shebab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, in which 67 people were killed.

Newspapers said that while action to increase security needed to be taken, some of the proposals were too severe.

“The very real and present dangers must not be used as an excuse to roll back the gains of a free and democratic society,” the Daily Nation’s editorial read.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.