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Kenyan Court Suspends Parts of New Security Law

  • Gabe Joselow

FILE - Bullet holes pepper a door at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, after a deadly September 2013 attack by Somali al-Shabab rebels. It helped push a new national security law, parts of which have been suspended.

FILE - Bullet holes pepper a door at Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, after a deadly September 2013 attack by Somali al-Shabab rebels. It helped push a new national security law, parts of which have been suspended.

Kenya's High Court has suspended some of the more controversial measures of a national security law, following a challenge from opposition lawmakers and a rights group about restrictions on media and refugees as well as broader police powers.

High Court Judge George Odunga on Friday suspended eight clauses in the Security Law Act, pending a further hearing.

FILE - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta

FILE - Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta

Among the clauses was a provision that granted the police the right to detain suspects without charge for 360 days, a measure imposing harsh fines on media outlets that broadcast images deemed offensive by the state and another clause that limited the number of refugees allowed in the country.

Opposition lawmakers and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights brought the challenge against the law to the High Court.

Commissioner Suzanne Shatikha Chivusia told VOA some of the provisions were oppressive and violated the constitution. With its restrictions on refugees, for instance, "some would have to be taken back to places where their lives could be under danger. I don't know how implementation of that law would occur, because either way it would violate the rights of genuine refugees."

Kenya already hosts more than 500,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia. The new law would limit the total number to 150,000.

In the Nairobi courtroom, the ruling was greeted with cheers and jubilation by members of the opposition coalition. They punched the air, chanting, "A people united shall never be defeated!"

Upheaval over initial bill

The initial bill was passed in mid-December during a chaotic session of parliament in which lawmakers threw punches and tossed papers on the floor of the National Assembly.

The law was approved without enough public input or time for lawmakers to debate, Chivusia said. “If we are going to allow flawed processes to result in enactment of legislation, that is going to be a very dangerous precedent."

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who signed the law shortly after it was passed, has denied it violates the constitution and has said all the amendments are in the interest of national security.

The ruling Jubilee Coalition pushed for the new security laws to combat the rising threat of terrorism in Kenya, following attacks claimed by or attributed to the Somali militant group al-Shabab.

In the worst attack, al-Shabab fighters assaulted Nairobi's Westgate Mall in September 2013 and killed more than 60 people.

Kenyatta said only those engaged in criminal activities need fear the law.

Nine western countries, including the United States, expressed their concerns about the bill in a statement last month, saying they support plans to improve security, but not at the risk of human rights infractions.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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