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Rights Groups Protest Kenya Anti-Terror Bill - 2003-11-17


A group of human rights organizations in Kenya has begun a planned week-long campaign against the government's proposed anti-terrorism legislation. The legislation, known formally as the Suppression of Terrorism Bill, has passed its first reading in Kenya's parliament and is before a parliamentary committee for debate.

Three human rights groups - Release Political Prisoners, Amnesty International and People Against Torture - launched a week of activities Sunday to protest the bill.

The week's plans include meetings with members of parliament and the parliamentary committee examining the draft legislation, a public discussion on the bill and a demonstration to be held Saturday.

Release Political Prisoners' coordinator Kang'ethe Mungai says the groups' major concern is that the bill gives police and other authorities unlimited powers to arrest and detain suspected terrorists.

He says the bill waives legal safeguards, such as search and arrest warrants, limits on the amount of time someone can be held incommunicado or without being charged, and bringing to trial police officers in cases where a suspect dies in custody. "The minute you are suspected [of being a terrorist], you are already condemned," he said. "So due process of law is thrown overboard in this bill. The institutions in Kenya are so poorly developed. So when you bring a law that removes even those little safeguards that are there in the law, I think it is a very sad day for Kenya."

Mr. Mungai says he fears the government might use the legislation to silence people who oppose certain policies or actions. He is also worried that the legislation will target Muslims, who analysts say are commonly portrayed as being associated with terrorist groups.

Attempts by VOA to reach Kenyan Attorney General Amos Wako were unsuccessful.

But Security Minister Chris Murungaru's spokesman, Douglas Kaunda, said the government is listening to Kenyans and is trying to draft legislation that balances human rights concerns with security needs.

"The government had to take into consideration the statements of all the groups, particularly religious groups and Kenyans who are really, and rightly so, concerned about the human rights," he explained. "I should think, given the final concerns of everybody, there should be a bill in place. But that bill should not infringe on other rights and the freedoms of the people."

Mr. Kaunda said human rights groups and others now have the chance to voice their concerns as the parliamentary committee examines the draft legislation.

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