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Kenyan lawmakers approve controversial anti-terror bill

December 18, 2014

Kenyan lawmakers on Thursday voted in favour of a tough anti-terror bill following a heated debate that sparked a brawl in parliament between opposition and pro-government MPs.

The new legislation gives authorities sweeping powers to crack down on terror suspects and curtail press freedoms in a country that has suffered a string of attacks by Somalia-based Shebab Islamists.

“I am not happy about the manner in which the bill was passed…. But I am happy it has passed,” said National Alliance MP Johnson Sakaja, a member of the ruling coalition.

The government argues the measures are necessary to confront the militants, but rights groups and the opposition say they go too far and are an assault on freedoms.

Divisions over the legislation triggered a war of words between lawmakers that culminated in a brawl, forcing the vote to be repeatedly delayed on Thursday. It was finally approved to loud boos from opposition MPs.

The legislation 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 also 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.

The opposition has vowed to take legal steps to get the legislation annulled.

“Civil society and ourselves will go to court to challenge the bill for being unconstitutional,” said opposition coalition leader Moses Wetangula.

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