Kenyan MPs approve controversial anti-terror bill

Kenyan MPs approve controversial anti-terror bill

Thu Dec 18, 2014 9:26PM GMT

Lawmakers in Kenya have voted for a tough anti-terror bill after a heated debate in the parliament that prompted a brawl between opposition and pro-government MPs.

The new law grants authorities sweeping powers to clamp down on terror suspects in a country facing a spate of attacks by Somalia-based Takfiri al-Shabab militants.

Based on the approved bill, a number of controversial measures can be taken, including extending the time police can keep terror suspects in custody from the current 90 days to nearly a year, increasing sentences and giving more powers to do phone tapping.

Additionally, the legislation stipulates that journalists can be also jailed for up to three years 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 government argues that the measures are necessary to deal with the militants. However, rights groups and the opposition say they are breaching freedoms and the rights of citizens.

Divisions over the legislation triggered heated debates between lawmakers, which ended in a brawl, forcing the vote to be put off over and over again on Thursday.

“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.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta had called on MPs to pass the bill to bolster the government’s ability to fight the threat posed by the al-Shabab militants.

“There is nothing to fear about the bill unless you have been engaging in criminal activities,” Kenyatta said.

The East African nation’s government was severely criticized as 67 people were killed last year in an al-Shabab attack on the Westgate shopping mall in the country’s capital, Nairobi.

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