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Kenyans Protest Anti-Terrorism Bill - 2003-08-02


Approximately 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Nairobi Saturday to protest the Kenyan government's proposed anti-terrorism bill.

Speaker after speaker denounced what they termed U.S. and British imperialism, religious discrimination and racism as among some of the factors behind the Kenyan government's proposed Suppression of Terrorism Bill.

They were angry about the pressure they claim that U.S. and British authorities are putting on the Kenyan government to enact anti-terrorism measures, and what they perceive as the Kenyan government's failure to defend the sovereignty of the east African country.

Presbyterian minister Rev. Timothy Njoya told the gathering that the proposed legislation turns back the clock on the gains Kenyans made in the areas of freedom and human rights, and violates the current constitution.

"The bill is borrowed from the same source as the American and British one, and hence looks like an instrument of recolonization," he said.

Among the controversial parts of the bill is a provision that would allow authorities to hold a suspect for up to 36 hours, without access to a lawyer, family members or anyone else from outside.

The bill also would grant foreign authorities the right to arrest and detain Kenyan citizens, and it would exempt Kenyan authorities from any legal repercussions for actions they take against terrorism.

Reverend Njoya says the bill will change Kenyan society.

"If this bill is enacted the way it is, it will make Kenya a police state. It will criminalize certain religious practices, like Muslim practices," he said.

Muslims feel particularly vulnerable, mostly because of the provision that says people can be arrested for wearing clothing or carrying objects linking them to terrorist organizations. They say Islam has become synonymous with terrorism in the common mind, so anyone wearing traditional Islamic dress might be unfairly branded as a terrorist.

The vice chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims, Al-Hajj Yussuf Muringu, says the legislation discriminates against Muslims for the way they dress.

"We find that it is, without mentioning the name Muslim or Islam, is targeting Muslims," he said.

Kenyan government officials deny that the bill discriminates against, or is meant to target, Muslims.

Mr. Muringu says there are already enough laws in Kenya to prevent terrorism and crime, without this new bill.

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