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Kenya's Proposed Security Law Stirs Debate

Kenyan security forces and others gather around the scene on an attack on a bus about 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside the town of Mandera, near the Somali border in northeastern Kenya, Nov. 22, 2014.

Kenyan lawmakers are debating a security bill aimed at combating increased terror threats and attacks in the country. The legislation would give more powers to the security agencies, but opposition politicians, legal experts and activists fear it could infringe people's rights and threaten the democratic gains made in the country.

Kenya is facing a security challenge from a rise in terrorism and criminal activity. In less than 10 days recently, al-Shabab fighters crossing from Somalia attacked a bus and a quarry, killing more than 60 people.

The Kenyan public has been angry at the government for failing to protect them from terror groups and criminals.

Responding to public pressure, the government proposed laws that would change how the country's security agencies handle and provide security.

The legislation gives the National Intelligence Service spy agency powers to arrest and detain terror suspects for one year, and the power to intercept communications without a court order.

Journalists and social media users could face a jail term of up to three years and a stiff fine for publishing or broadcasting photographs of terror victims without the authorization of the police and the victim.

Parliamentary majority leader Aden Duale said the bill needed some changes, but he was confident lawmakers would iron out their differences.

"We must rise to the occasion. We must look at this bill with soberness and look at the bill and say that the following areas are OK, the following areas we need to re-look at it, and as a house with the interest of the country, with the interest of the security challenges we have, I have no doubt in my mind that we will come together to a table we will protect the constitution," he said.

Opposition lawmaker Ababu Namwamba told colleagues the proposed law would catch up with them and it would be a return to a one party state.

"This bill is an epitome, the manifestation, the face of impunity. This bill will lead to securitization of our state to a level that even yourselves as the representatives of the people cannot bare. This bill is an express visa to a return to the autocratic Jomo [Kenyatta] and [Daniel Arap] Moi state that we thought we had buried in the dustbins of history. It is a bad law," said Namwamba.

Kenyan lawmakers supporting the law said the country needed a tougher way to fight increased terror threats.

Security agencies have complained against the judiciary for giving bail to terror suspects they have presented to the courts.

Advocates have accused the police of doing shoddy work that has made it hard to prosecute terror suspects.

Kenya has made some changes. Police chief David Kimayo resigned and Joseph Ole Lenku was dismissed as Cabinet Secretary for the Interior after the quarry attack.

If the new security law is passed, it will give the president the power to pick the police chief with the approval of parliament, meaning the current National Police Service Commission and other vetting bodies won't have a say on the appointment.

Critics said the proposed security bill could curtail democratic gains by giving the president sweeping powers to clamp down on press freedom and freedom of expression.