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Hundreds Demonstrate in Nairobi Against Proposed Anti-Terror Law


The Kenyan government is facing deep and widespread opposition to draft legislation designed to combat terrorism in the east African country.

Hundreds of protesters from human rights groups and student organizations demonstrated Tuesday in Nairobi against the proposed legislation against terrorism. They warned the government to scrap the Suppression of Terrorism Bill or face mass action in one week's time.

Ng'ang'a Thiong'o, executive director of Release Political Prisoners, one of the groups at the demonstration, said his biggest worry is that the government bill exempts authorities from any legal action if they injure or kill a suspect during the course of investigations.

"So long as we suspect you as a terrorist, we can hold you, beat you, kill you, then you have no remedy," he said. "So it takes away even what the current constitution has given, the right to compensation."

Mr. Thiong'o is also concerned about the provision that enables authorities to hold a suspect for up to 36 hours without allowing him access to a lawyer, family members, or anyone else from the outside. He fears suspects could be tortured during this time, as happened under the previous government.

Though the bill has yet to be presented in parliament, its contents are widely known. In addition to exempting Kenyan authorities from any legal repercussions for actions they take against terrorism, it also calls for fines or the arrest of people who are wearing clothing or have items that may link them to terrorist organizations. In addition, the bill also grants foreign authorities the right to arrest and detain Kenyan citizens.

Human rights groups are not the only ones opposed to the bill. The justice and legal affairs committee in parliament has also weighed in against the bill. On Tuesday, it issued a statement calling for the bill to be shelved, saying it threatens to tear apart the very fabric of one nation and could offer fertile ground for religious animosity and suspicion.

Muslim leaders have come out against the bill. All the people detained so far in connection with the bombing last year of a hotel near Mombasa are Muslims, and Muslim leaders feel the new bill will make their people even more vulnerable.

But Kenya's Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs defended the bill. "We are going to balance between the human rights concerns and security concerns," said Kiraitu Murungi. "This is a tightrope we are walking and I believe [at] the end of this product, the act that comes out in parliament will have a balance between human rights and security concerns for this country."

Mr. Murungi said that nowhere in the draft is the Muslim community mentioned, but he also said he welcomes the debate and that the government is willing to amend it to address the concerns of the critics.

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